Monday, September 26, 2016

Excursions on Second Cruise 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.   

Ephesus, Turkey.

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.

Mykonos, Greece is next.

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.

Haifa, Israel

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.

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





Monday, September 5, 2016

Shore Excursions 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 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. 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 towns. 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 the 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 lis, 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. I love this vibrant and lively city, and I’m happy to be going back. My next hotel book is set there, and more research is always a good thing. This is a walking tour, and I’ll visit a few of Gaudi’s masterpieces, among them La Sagrada Família, the magnificent architectural marvel, and 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 a visit to 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.

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

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Touring While on a Cruise 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.

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

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