Saturday, August 20, 2016

Making Reservations 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.

Finally I made a decision and 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, breakfast is yummy, and coffee sublime.

The property 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 airline prices were much higher than the others, and the use of points to upgrade to business did not work at all. Either there were no seats available to upgrade, or the economy rates were astronomical. 

It is 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, and when I went back and started over again, the rate for the same flight, same time was much higher. Some error.

Since I was not able to use my points, I had the credit card company transfer the cash amount to my checking account to offset the cost of the airfare, it is a benefit but not as great a benefit as transferring my points to upgrade the flight. I now know that the terrific advertised benefit of transferring point for point to the participating airline was worthless. It may work for others, I’m only stating that it didn’t work for me for this trip. 

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, I won’t be using it since the cruise ends in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, that is one of the lovely perks of a transatlantic cruise. I was also able to book a reasonable and direct flight from Ft. Lauderdale home. It only took me a whole day, and a lot of patience, along with a great deal of frustration, and a full pot of coffee.. 

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, and my editor is expecting a finished product in September. On that note, I posted a few pictures from Rome for you to enjoy.

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

Sunday, August 14, 2016

First Impression of Cairns 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.

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

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Cruising Stuff 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.

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


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Count Down 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.

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

Monday, July 4, 2016

Summer 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-easy access to morning coffee is crucial.

Cedric's Tavern, also on the estate, has an excellent Shepherd's Pie, one of my favorite dishes. 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 a serene and relaxing 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 seem to be swept away with the rushing tide.

One 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.

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

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Cinque Terre by Margot Justes










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.

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

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Tenerife by Margot Justes Redux














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 2nd centuries BC.

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

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

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

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