Thursday, August 23, 2018

A Touch of Paris by Margot Justes

My first love was Paris. I spent a bit of time there and quickly grew to love the city.

I hope you enjoy this brief visit. This article was published a while ago, but still evokes fantastic memories.

I’m convinced that it’s time to go back to Paris, writing this article has been a delight, but leaves me with a sense of longing to revisit one of my very favorite places and discover new ones.

Last time I stayed at the Hotel Lutetia, (45 Boulevard Raspail 75006 Paris).The hotel evokes the Art Deco period masterfully. It's charming, intimate, the staff helpful and it is centrally located. Best of all it is within walking distance of the Rodin Museum. My absolutely favorite museum of all.

Volumes have been written about Paris, but I would love to share a few of the treasured memories and impressions of a city that has enchanted me for many, many years.

Travel within the city is easy, it's a walking city, have comfortable shoes and Paris is yours.  If that is a problem, the Metro system is fast, quiet and efficient and trains run frequently.

My most cherished memories are those of the time spent in the Latin Quarter and the Rodin Museum. I will start our journey there.

The Left Bank. The Latin Quarter. The collegiate pulse of Paris, and what a pulse it is.

The Latin Quarter so named because during the Middle Ages students attending the Sorbonne spoke Latin.

As in the rest of this remarkable city, the Latin Quarter has a vast architectural history and a history of political unrest, one worth mentioning was the 1968 student revolt, where even toilets were torn from the bathroom walls and destroyed. 

This verve center never sleeps, the cafes are always brimming with students. Even today, you get the sense of the bohemian life style.

To be sure you’ll hear discussions on the latest soccer scores, but you will also see games of chess being played, you’ll hear philosophical discussions, you’ll see students reading Voltaire, Zola, Rousseau and probably James Patterson while sipping their brew of choice.

The Sorbonne stands at the center, its creation dates back to 1253; see what I mean about history.

You’re in the intellectual center of Paris, but you’re also right smack in the urban center, vital and pulsing with life.

The Cluny Museum built on Roman ruins, also known as the Middle Age Museum is filled with artifacts dating to the middle ages, among them exquisite illuminated manuscripts. You have the Pantheon that dates back to 1750, the Natural History Museum and also the Arab World Institute, a relative newcomer built in the 1980’s.

The Latin Quarter anchored (as it were) by Notre Dame, and the Seine at one end and the Luxembourg Gardens at the other and so much in between.

Go off the beaten path, stray from Boulevard St. Michel and you may find yourself walking on uneven cobblestones, a maze of tiny streets that lead into others. One among many is Rue de la Huchette, filled with beguiling multi national restaurants, just begging you to sample their cuisine.

The Luxembourg Gardens beckon you in, as the gentle mist falls on the tree branches leaving a crystal reflection, a heavenly clean earthy smell permeates your nostrils as you take a deep breath. Walk along the gravel path and hear it crunch beneath your feet. Listen to the birds chirp as they spread their wings and take flight only to land perched on a shoulder of a statue.

Watch the grass as it seems to become greener right in front of your eyes, the rain still falling and sinking deep into the earth.

Leave the peace of the gardens and walk out through the wrought iron fence. Go across the street while the gentle rain is still falling, sit down in the café, order a coffee and observe the wet wrought iron glisten in the golden sun peeking through the clouds.

Go to the Rodin Museum, (Musee Rodin 77 Rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris) walk, take a cab, the Metro, anyway you see fit, but get there.

Even before you enter the intimate museum, you can get a glimpse of the treasures within through the glass wall. Yes, a glass wall allows you to see the backs of the Burghers of Calais. Can you think of a better enticement to a museum?

Enter through the old doors and you’re in Rodin’s gardens, visiting his home. The Gates of Hell, the massive portals greet you coming in and going out; it is a portal as no other.

Inspired by Dante’s Inferno, they are magnificent. An endeavor that took almost four decades and bears an unforgettable semblance of chaos.  Rodin was thought to believe that hell is not only a place for the dead but the living as well. The agony, will to survive, beauty, horror, it’s all there for you to see.

Wonder through the gardens, sit on the bench in front of the Thinker and strike a pose. He’s there in the elements, right in the midst of the gardens. Stroll further and meet Balzac. Sit down in the outdoor café and sip a delicious cup of coffee, look around you, the treasures abound.

The Burghers of Calais await your visit, an incredible sculpture depicting men willing to sacrifice their lives to save their village. The heartbreaking sorrow reflected in their faces is simply astounding.

For me, the urge to touch and savor a piece of sculpture is always there, whether it’s smooth and flowing or harsh and gnarly, doesn’t matter, I just feel the need to touch. But it wasn’t till I was introduced to Rodin’s work that I saw passion portrayed with such force, agony with such poignancy, hope and survival with such strength; each sinew, rope, muscle so well defined.

I had a radio interview with Jena O’Connor of KORN 1490 AM Let’s Talk and she asked a really good question. She had read my book, liked it and wanted to know what makes the Rodin Museum unique? What makes it standout and different from the rest?

And for once I was quick on my feet…it’s still a work in progress…the thinking on my feet part. 

For me it is matchless in its intimacy. The gardens are magnificent and the sculptures peek at you from unexpected places. It is relaxing, not chaotic, your eye wonders but there is none of the panic of what shall I see first or next. As a visitor you tend to relax, take your time. Savor. Enjoy. You’re among friends. You’re not overwhelmed. Look at the Thinker, thought and muscle? Or is it? What would you see?

Once you’ve wondered through the gardens, you’re now ready to enter his home. Some pieces have been left as a work in progress, ready for the master to return and finish. That is entirely my impression, probably because his presence can still be felt, at least by me.

The Kiss, hard cold marble generating a tremendous amount of heat. Passionate. The lovers wrapped in an ardent embrace, totally oblivious of others. If you’re lucky enough to be there, stand in front and decide if you agree with the critics and pundits, was it just a woman submitting to the man? Or is there more, much more.

The Hand of God, flowing, smooth, compelling. Can you feel the magic of the hand rising out of the un-worked marble? The hard, cold stone holds such magnificent power.

Walk through the house and listen to the creaking floor boards and imagine the beginning of life in the creative process.

Then of course there is the Louvre, world renowned and rightfully so, and on every tourists’ map. It is huge and you can’t possibly see everything in one visit. Select a few pieces and start there, otherwise you’ll be overwhelmed.

My absolutely favorite sculpture is incredible in stature and appeal. Also known as the Winged Victory of Samothrace or Nike of Samothrace-the goddess Nike (meaning Victory in Greek) is an astounding massive piece standing at 328 cm. That’s almost 11 ft from the top of her shoulders to her feet and she’s standing on a ship. 

Placed at the center of the landing in the grand Daru staircase in the Louvre, the statue takes your breath away. It is overwhelming in its sheer power, beauty and size.

The Victory made of Parian marble from Paros, Greece, circa 220-190 BC, can we say old, is so beautifully sculpted. The head is missing, as are the arms, but the sense of the power, the gigantic windblown wings held back, the seemingly wet garments flowing about  the legs fighting the sea wind, displaying a stance of power, ferocity and victory, overrides everything else.

A graceful, ebullient and wind swept Nike coming down to earth standing on the prow of a ship declaring victory. The sculpture was discovered in 1863 on the small island Samothrace in the Aegean, by Charles Champoiseau, French Vice-Consul to a city in Turkey. Just in case you were wondering about the French connection.

The first time I came face to face with the statue, I know it’s an odd thing to say ‘face to face’ with a headless statue, but the idiom fits. I wasn’t very graceful, so awestruck I wasn’t paying attention, missed a couple of steps and paid appropriate homage, on my knees, face down or up since I was staring at the magnificent site at the time. A clumsy introduction like that is memorable to say the least.

I think everyone has heard of the Louvre and the many treasures it houses, but I wonder how many of us actually thought about the historic building that so many masterpieces call home. As you might have guessed, I happen to like buildings too.

A fortress. A palace. A world renowned museum. The building has a grand and passionate history. Began in the 12th or 13th century, depending where you do your research. Suffice it to say, it is old. It has been build upon to keep invaders out, kings in extreme luxury and masterpieces comfortable and lovingly cared for.

The size is astounding, 60,000 square feet, give or take a foot or two, and hosts over 35,000 pieces of art. When I said it was huge, I was not exaggerating. Take a deep breath and forge ahead, just remember you can't see everything on one day. If your time is limited, decide before going in what you absolutely must see, and start there. The place is overwhelming.

The building, altered over the years gives you a glimpse of its complete history, if you take the time to look around you. Even Catherine De Medici had a hand in the re-design by combining the Louvre and the Palais des Tuileries. There were additions, rebuilding and destruction, but what remains to this day is simply inspiring.

Louis XIV, lived at the Palais Louvre but later moved to better accommodations-Versailles-and left the Louvre Palace to predominantly display the royal art collection.

The museum opened its doors to the public in 1793. Changes made by Louis XIV,  Napoleon and many others over the centuries have added an incredible imprint on the size of the building as well as the collection the museum houses today.

Surrounded by the Tuileries gardens, the mammoth Romanesque structure is awe inspiring at first sight. It cannot be missed. The serene quiet elegance outside, belies the richness of the galleries and collection on exhibit inside. The immense history of the Louvre from the first laid stone matches its gargantuan size. Take a leisurely stroll in the gorgeous gardens, admire the building from afar and imagine someone calling it home.

A visit to Paris must include a stroll on the grandest avenue of them all, the Champs Elysees. Trees border the wide avenue. My imagination always takes root, and I see a fanciful lush border that outlines the street, a gigantic sweep of branches that almost caress the ground, as the cars speed in manic hurry.  Exhilarating. The site is a delight to the senses. Wide, open, elegant and vital. Brimming with life and expensive boutiques.

You have arrived at the shoppers Mecca in Paris. No, it is not the haute couture center, although fine shopping is indeed plentiful, it is simply an exciting mixture of stores, cafes, cinemas and tourists. Many tourists, no matter time of year.

The avenue’s beginning is simple, an Elysian field-hence the name-became a strolling pathway in 1616, under Marie De Medici’s guidance.

Today it stretches from the Place de la Concorde, the renowned obelisk marks the starting point all the way up to the Arc de Triomphe and the Place de l’Etoile (place of stars), over a mile long, it is easily the most recognized avenue in the world.

Once you reach the Arc de Triomphe and go upstairs, Paris will be at your feet, look down, you’ll see why it is called the place of stars. It has since been renamed Place Charles du Gaulle, but for me it will always be the place of stars.

I have often heard it said that if you sit in a café on the Champs Elysees long enough, you will eventually meet someone you know. I never had, but am willing to test the hypothesis.

Yes, Paris is expensive, but simple and inexpensive pleasures can be found. Anywhere you may find yourself, take a few moments and make them uniquely your own.  

You have to be willing to by-pass the tourist frenzy, the bus waiting to take you somewhere else, the time crunch because said bus will leave without you. Take timeout, by yourself and get to know Paris. You won’t be disappointed.  The intimate side streets, the age old buildings; the charm of the city awaits you.

It is early morning and the city is asleep, yet on the brink of wakefulness. You’re back in the Latin Quarter strolling along the Seine, alongside the closed bookstalls. Peaceful. Quiet. Serene. You glance at Notre Dame before the tourists storm the place.

Yes, sort of like storming the Bastille, but without significant damage and destruction. In the early morning mist, see the flying buttresses of Notre Dame glisten as the sun rises and casts a spell on the stained glass windows; see the colors sparkle and glow in the early morning sun.

That little walk will cost you nothing, and you’ll never regret it. Listen to the bells peel, as Notre Dame makes her presence felt. The steps quicken. The stalls open, one by one. The tempo picks up and life resumes. The pulse of this vital city is alive and well.

You will be seduced by Paris just by walking down a street.  Stop in a café order coffee, it is pure nirvana, if your taste run to the brew as mine does. Relax and listen to the beat of the city coming to life. I love the early mornings, as the city wakes.

Take the time to get to know Paris, away from the bustle of the tourists. I have done exactly that many times and have found that a gentle rain, overcast sky can be as romantic as anything else, whether you’re alone strolling and day dreaming or walking with someone special by your side. It’s what you make of any given moment.  Truly, in Paris every little thing that you take for granted at home becomes incredibly special.

Every moment counts and is treasured. There is something magical about the city, introspective, passionate and exquisite. Romance pure and simple.

There is so much more to see, arm yourself with a good guide book, and comfortable shoes. Paris is a walking city. Just remember, you can't possibly see everything in a couple of days; for your visit pick what is essential to you and save the rest for another day or another time.

Margot Justes

A Hotel in Paris

A Hotel in Bath

A Hotel in Venice

Article previously published in Crime Spree Magazine.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Moving by Margot Justes

I haven’t posted much on this site, time has gotten away from me, many changes in my life, and the upside down and drastically changing writing business.

I have moved, yes-again-loved my time in Alexandria, but winters turned out to be cold and damp, and as the saying goes I’m not getting any younger, I needed more warmth and sunshine. I don’t mind moving to new places, it is an excellent way to get rid of all the stuff we tend to accumulate.

That meant back to the basics, putting the condo for sale, and finding a new place to live that was historically significant, close to water, and had palm trees. I love palm trees.

The speedy condo sale in one week meant that packing once again was a top priority, as was finding a place to live, and in between all that there was a cruise to Alaska that was booked and paid for. I did not anticipate selling the condo that quickly and was not about to give up the cruises either.

Fortunately, I had visited St. Augustine before, and fell in love with the incredible old town, the beautiful water front, the many swaying palm trees, the proximity to the ocean, but most of all the Spanish history. I had found a new place to live, all I needed now was a house.

 My writing time once again was put on back burner, and evenings were pretty much spent on the couch among all the boxes, and the last thing I wanted to do in the evening was write, brain was on down time, along with the body.

Since moving to St. Augustine last June, I have discovered a bit more of the South, fell in love with Charleston, Asheville is still a go to place, as is Savannah. There are the GA barrier islands that I have yet to discover, and more of Florida, I have visited Miami, and Ft. Lauderdale, and they’re lively and vibrant places to visit, but I love St. Augustine, and the history, wonderful walks along the waterfront, close to morning strolls along the beach, but best of all is living in a community surrounded by trees.

Hope you’ll enjoy a few pictures from St. Augustine.


Margot  Justes

A Hotel in Paris

A Hotel in Bath

A Hotel in Venice

Blood Art

A Fire Within

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

My Favorite Holiday Recipes by Margot Justes

It is that time of the year, and my favorite recipes are resurrected for the holiday season.

In many of my baking recipes you will detect an underlying theme-rum-the wonderful aroma of rum adds a festive touch to the baking process, and Myers’s is an excellent dark rum.


1 stick of butter

1 large can of evaporated milk

2 oz bitter chocolate (I only use Ghirardelli chocolate)

12 oz semi sweet or dark chocolate chips

2 lbs sugar (4 ½ cups) The batch I made yesterday I used 3 ¾ cups of sugar, and it seems fine.

12 oz dark chocolate

½ lb small marshmallows

1 ½ tbsp Vanilla

1 cup of chopped walnuts-Optional (I use 2 cups) 

1 cup of raisins-Optional (I soak them in Myer’s dark rum overnight, and mix the rum into the chocolate-not a drop is wasted) Soaking the raisins is optional, but the rum adds a terrific taste to the fudge.

Combine butter, canned milk and sugar, stir over medium heat until sugar is dissolved, cook to a boil, about 5 minutes.

Turn off heat and add marshmallows, stir until melted, add the 3 types of chocolate, one at a time, stir until each is dissolved. Add vanilla, raisins with all the rum, nuts and stir.

Line a cookie sheet with saran wrap, extending the edges; pour the fudge into the cookie pan, spread evenly with knife or spatula.

Let dry for at least 2 days. Invert the fudge unto your counter, remove wrap and let dry for another 2 days. Cut into squares and serve.

This recipe makes quite a bit of fudge, I cut it all up and store in tin cans or sealed plastic bags. My family loves the fudge, and it usually doesn’t last very long. Makes a great gift too.

Banana-Nut-Rum Bread

½ cup cooking oil

1 cup sugar

2 eggs-beaten

4 or 5 ripe bananas-mashed

2 cups Flour (I use whole wheat)

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup chopped nuts

1 cup of chocolate chips

1 cup of raisins (I soak mine in rum overnight)

Beat oil and sugar together. Add the beaten eggs and banana pulp and beat well. Add the dry ingredients, milk and vanilla. Mix well and stir in nuts, raisins with rum, and chocolate chips. Pour into greased and floured loaf pan (9 x 5 x 3) I use lasagna pan, cooks more evenly.

Bake in preheated oven at 350 F for about an hour. Cool well before cutting.

Rum Balls

2 1/2 cups Vanilla Wafers

5 1/2 cups ground walnuts

1 cup of honey

1 cup of dark rum

1 cup or as needed confectioner’s sugar

Mix all ingredients, form into small balls and roll in sugar. I usually let them sit on foil paper for a day or so and then arrange on platter. You may need to sprinkle them with additional powdered sugar.

Poppy Seed Cake

This one takes time, but if you like poppy seeds, you’ll love this coffee cake.

1 cup of milk

1 package of active dry yeast

1 tsp sugar

1 cup of butter (2 sticks)

1/3 cup of sugar

1/2 tsp salt

2 eggs

4 1/4 cups of flour

2 tsp vanilla

Scald milk, cool to a warm temp, add yeast and 1 tsp sugar; stir to dissolve yeast. Let stand for about 10 minutes. Yeast should puff up in the milk.

Cream butter, add 1/2 cup of sugar, beat in eggs and salt. Add flour alternating with yeast mixture. Knead on floured surface. Place in greased bowl and cover. Let rise until doubled.

Cut dough in half and roll it out the length of your cookie sheet, spread the poppy seed filling and form into a log, sealing the ends. Put on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  The two rolls should fit on cookie sheet. Repeat with the second batch of dough. 

Poppy Seed Filling (double the recipe for the two cakes)

1 can of poppy seed filling (I use Solo)

Rind of 1 lemon

3/4 cup of chopped walnuts

11/2 tsp vanilla

3/4 raisins

Mix all ingredients and spread on rolled out dough.

1 egg slightly beaten and 1 tsp of water; mix egg and water and brush on cakes.

Let the cakes rise for a couple of hours, brush again with egg mixture, and then put in pre-heated oven at 350F and bake for an hour. Cool and enjoy.

Hot Chocolate

This is my version, with extra dark chocolate.

1 8 oz glass of milk, I now use2% milk, less sugar. (I conserve calories wherever I can...she wrote laughingly)

1 Tablespoon dark unsweetened Ghirardelli cocoa (I like the unsweetened cocoa; the flavor is much stronger)

4 squares Ghirardelli 72% dark or 2 tablespoons Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips


Heat milk and cocoa, make sure cocoa and milk are well blended, use a small whisk if necessary. When the milk is hot take 4 squares or 2 tablespoons of Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips (to taste) put it in and mix until completely melted. You can sprinkle a bit of shaved chocolate on top. Sweeten to taste, and add a few small marshmallows on top.  

You can of course use sugar or sweetened cocoa, but it's the good cocoa and dark chocolate that gives it the added richness. It is a delicious treat, and easy to make.  

I love hot cocoa, and use the Bialetti machine to speed the process up a little. It heats up and froths the milk at the same time. I even use it to froth a large quantity of milk for cappuccinos, and lattes.

These are among my favorite sweet recipes during the holiday season that starts with Halloween and ends with the New Year.

May your holiday season be filled with love, joy and laughter.


Margot  Justes

Blood Art

A Fire Within

A Hotel in Paris

A Hotel in Bath

A Hotel in Venice

Friday, May 12, 2017

Barcelona by Margot Justes

There is an unspoken verve in Barcelona, life is meant to be lived, whether it’s the flamenco music, the whimsical architecture of Gaudi, the superb restaurants, the fantastic waterfront, the treasured moments of sipping coffee in a cafe; the magic transcends the mundane.

This was not my first visit to Barcelona, but this time I had a chance to see Barcelona’s Medieval Gothic Quarter, something I missed the last couple of times I was there.  The old part of town is in huge contrast to the stunning architecture in the ‘modern’ Barcelona, where Antoni Gaudi reigns supreme. There has been no one before him and certainly not anyone since this remarkable man, whose imagination and creativity knew no bounds. Can you tell I love with his work? I do, I really do.

I was there four years ago, and spent three days visiting Gaudi’s work, from la Pedrera, to Casa Batllo, Park Guell, and of course La Sagrada Familia. His work is unique, and exceeds  any expectation of routine, normal, it rises above all. Since my last visit, considerable work has been done to the interior and exterior of the Basilica.  It is one of the most fascinating, innovative pieces of architecture ever attempted, a true marvel. Gaudi’s work is beyond whimsy.

Gaudi died before he could complete it, and there is considerable pressure to finish it by 2026, the 100th anniversary of his death.  The Basilica must be seen to be believed. 

It is safe to say that Barcelona is a city filled with creative modern architecture, but the old is well preserved and nurtured. La Rambla, a uniquely Spanish paseo, a street lined with trees, a pavement set in blocks that resemble a wave, and street entertainers, along with souvenir shops, restaurants and café, give locals and tourists alike a fun filled time.

The Paseo de Gracias compares favorably to 5th Ave, in NY, or the Champs Elysee in Paris, and you can visit La Pedrera and Casa Batllo, two of the most well known Gaudi buildings in Barcelona are on the famous avenue.

After the visit to the Basilica, I spent the day wondering on la Rambla, where strolling along the avenue is an agreeable way to spend time, of course there are shops, cafes, street entertainment, and the greatest market of all. The Boqueria is wondrous; you can find anything from fresh fish to fresh figs and anything in between, including food stands and restaurants. I stopped for a drink made with mango and passion fruit, along with a cornmeal concoction that was amazingly tasty, also a bread, cheese and potato roll, to finish the meal some glazed assorted nuts, then a stop in a nearby café for café con leche.

If you ever visit Barcelona, one of the required stops should be the Boqueria. Barcelona as a whole is a vital and vibrant city, and has something for everyone, from museums, to theatre, to couture shopping, and everything in between.

I think it is the perfect setting for a honeymoon for Peter and Minola, and I hope this visit has inspired me to actually finish A Hotel in Barcelona.

Happy travels, wherever they may take you.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Lisbon, Portugal by Margot Justes

This was my first visit to Lisbon, I took an extended tour and also visited Sintra and Cascais. Lisbon is a big, cosmopolitan and busy port city, it is Portugal’s capital and also the largest city. The crowning glory is the Moorish St. George’s Castle, a majestic site that looms over central Lisbon. The origins of the castle date back to the 2nd century BC, originally used by the Celtic tribes, and in the 10th century the castle was rebuilt by the Moors. 

The fortified Belem Tower is one of the sites that should not be missed, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, built in the early 16th Century, and is a perfect example of the Portuguese Manueline style-essentially Portuguese late Gothic style of architecture. 

This is a city I’d love to go back and actually spend a few days, but on this trip, I also booked a tour to visit Sintra and Cascais, That is the downside to cruising, visits are limited, I really hope to go back.

Sintra was described as a royal village, and is another UNESCO World Heritage  Site. A resort town at the foothills of the Sintra Mountains, along with lush vegetation, picturesque, hilly and narrow streets makes it an absolute delight to visit. A busy main square where locals and tourists visited the many restaurants, shops and cafes, the squares are the social meeting places for locals as well as tourists, and I was amazed how lively the place was.

Full of shops, cafes, touristy, and yet so charming. The claim to fame in this area is cork, purses, shoes, postcards, bookmarks, hats, all made from cork. My older daughter collects bookmarks; I bought one carved from wood in Sorrento, and one made from cork in Sintra.

The narrow cobbled streets that are so prevalent in Europe are a continuous delight, no matter where I go. Some of the ones in Sintra were spectacular, narrow, aged, and beautifully kept up. The Moorish architecture is spectacular, throw in a couple of palaces, a cooler climate makes Sintra the perfect place to visit.

Lunch in Sintra started with delicious bread, cheeses, thinly cut ham, an assortment of olives, followed by kale and potato soup, all were yummy. Then came the meat, shish kabob missed the markt, tough and leathery, not seasoned at all and hard to cut even with a sharp knife, we won’t mention the chewing effort involved.  I left the meat on the plate, and focused on ham, cheese and bread.

The dessert was a total mystery, some sort of a sweet cake, and none of us at the table could decide what flavor it was, other than overwhelmingly and numbingly sweet. However, the excellent black coffee made up for any misses, once we finished the meal we were herded to the bus for the ride to Cascais.

Cascais is predominantly a wealthy fishing town, with a beautiful waterfront. I found it more reserved than Sintra. As luck would have it there was a craft fair at the main square, it was fun to see what the local artisans made, great similarities to what we find back home. The local cork product was well represented. There was the typical beaded jewelry, a bit of photography, baked goods, and a few paintings.

Happy travels, wherever they may take you.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice

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.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice

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.

Margot  Justes
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