Saturday, December 28, 2013

Venice by Margot Justes Redux

Below is a blog I posted when I returned from my first trip to Venice. On my second trip this year, my feelings about Venice intensified. The city is as mysterious as it is stunning.

Getting to Venice is not difficult,  hop on a plane to any central European city and transfer to a small plane bound for the Marco Polo airport in Venice.

Once there, it took me a while to get my bearing,  my nickname Wrong Way Rodal is well founded. I get lost easily and have a hard time with left and right, and we won't discuss North, South, etc.

At the Marco Polo airport, I wanted to get an ACTV 72 hour pass, that would allow me to take the bus to the center of town and more importantly would allow me to use the vaporetto at will.

I asked and received a blank stare, a finger pointing to a sea of faces, no kiosk selling anything, just tourists looking as lost as I was. One person actually answered in Italian, and since I spoke in English and don't speak Italian beyond the pleasantries, it presented a slight problem.  But we smiled at each other and I thanked him in Italian. Grazie goes a long way but unfortunately not to a place that got me a ticket.

The fact that I spoke English, had this totally lost look on my face, was at an airport, lugging luggage behind me and hoping against hope someone would take me for a tourist. Nope, it didn’t happen, no one did. Odd that.

I walked a bit further, probably in a circle, although nothing looked familiar and I didn't get that- been there done that- the European Vacation 'look kids Big Ben' feeling.
Finally, I got lucky and bought the three day pass and took the bus that took me to Piazza Roma, the central hub where it would appear all travelers converge. 

From there it was walking distance over a few bridges to the Boscolo Bellini hotel, just steps away from the Grand Canal in the Cannaregio district.

Going up and down the various bridges was a treat, the luggage thumping, bumping and groaning as the was person pulling the darn things. That would be me.

The area was perfect, the hotel however was not, at best it lacked a personality, however the people at the desk were gracious and helpful, and the location more than made up for the shortcomings of the hotel.
Breakfast at the hotel was delicious, the pastries fresh and the coffee sublime.  On the second day, my server remembered my preference and brought hot steaming milk to the table.

My first day was spent wondering through the maze of tiny alleys and narrow streets in hope of finding the elusive Piazza San Marco. You guessed it, even following the clear markings and arrows, I got lost. 
Practically next door to the hotel was a remarkable Romanesque church and it so happened that there was a concert that night right in the church. It was fantastic. All in all, an incredible first day in a wondrous city.

The local restaurant was superb and I fell in  love with black pasta, the local Venetian specialty. It truly was love at first bite.  Black pasta is either pasta made with squid or cuttlefish  ink, or the sauce is made from the ink. I tried both and loved both, the flavor is at once robust and earthy. Gelato was the dessert of choice, there are many flavors to choose from and I did my best to sample as many as time permitted.

Piazza San Marco does exist. St. Mark's Basilica stands proud and dominates the Piazza, it is the central focus, however the Piazza is so much more, the ducal palace and cafes, souvenir shops and the Grand Canal. The Piazza, simply put is glorious, as is the rest of this mysterious and intriguing city.

Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Blood Art

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Cinque Terre by Margot Justes

Cinque Terre is in the rugged Liguria region of the Italian Riviera. Rugged indeed and stunning. Cinque Terre is a national park, and 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 bit of 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. The effect is stunning.

Cinque Terre has become a popular tourist destination, and you will find the necessary souvenir shops, restaurants, and cafes. Yet it retains an old age charm, with small fishing boats moored on the street, sort of like parking a car, except they’re boats. We has enough time to walk down the main street and a few narrow avenues that further defined 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 a 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 you forget everything except the sheer age and natural beauty that surrounds you.

From Vernazza we took the local train to Monterosso. The village is a bit bigger, and more  touristy. I stopped for lunch at a restaurant with a fantastic view of the sea, and the best seafood pasta I’ve ever tasted. Pasta was cooked al dente just the way I like it, and the seafood was incredibly fresh, and the tomato sauce was light and well seasoned.

Along the way, we tasted some of the local wines, and amaretti con limone cookies; the Monterosso specialty-macaroons made with lemon, and some delicious Pesto, 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.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Barcelona by Margot Justes


Barcelona is exciting, vibrant and the locals know how to enjoy themselves, they possess the joie de vivre that is hard to miss, and often times hard to find.

At any given time stroll on La Rambla, and you’ll see locals and savvy tourists sit down in a cafe and enjoy a beer, tapas, coffee, along with a dish of green olives, or just stroll arm in arm on the wide street. There are many souvenirs shops that line the famous paseo, all the kitschy tourist stuff, along with entertainment, and all of it delightful.

The street is filled to capacity, and I for one at this stage in my life don’t like crowds, and if truth be told-never did-but I really didn’t mind it. I had a wondrous adventure just walking down the street. You see people smile, nod their heads in acknowledgement as you stroll along as if in a romantic dream.

There are museums to be sure, Miro, Dali and Picasso have a foundation in Barcelona. The stunning architecture will take your breath away, everywhere you turn you see a magnificent building, from Gothic to Art Nouveau to the indescribable Gaudi treasures, to contemporary and everything in between. Landmarks abound.

The city also boasts a beautiful coast line, and one of the biggest ports in Europe, along with some beautiful parks, one even designed by Gaudi.

Have I forgotten to mention the food-it is delicious-they create a mouth watering delight   with just potatoes. Okay, I’m Polish and happen to love potatoes, but the Patatas Bravas are truly yummy, and the sauce has a slight bite that you feel on the tip of your tongue.

A huge array of cheeses, hams, breads, olives, an amazing selection of fish, all that is available in many tapas bars. The offerings are small, so you can visit many places and taste the amazing variety of appetizers. A delightful and delicious way to sample the local cuisine.

Shopping abounds on Passeig de Gracia, favorably compared to other famous boulevards with prices to match. I enjoy the walk, and window shop, the displays are imaginative and fun.

There are many hotels and as always prices range from low to high, it all depends on your budget. You will find delicious and reasonably priced tapas bars, but if you’re in the tourist areas be prepared to pay. I do a bit of research  before I leave, and thus avoid sticker shock.

Barcelona has it all, and is definitely worth a visit.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Gaudi in Barcelona by Margot Justes

If you love architecture, and whimsical work that makes you smile and feel happy, then there is no better place than Barcelona. That is where you’ll find Antoni Gaudi’s work.

You will also find Dali, Picasso and Miro, but Gaudi’s work alone is worth a trip to Barcelona. Many of his buildings in Barcelona were designated World Heritage Sites.

Gaudi is considered a major contributor to the ‘Catalan Modernism’ style of architecture, and the leading proponent of the Art Nouveau movement, but the end result refuses to be qualified as anything but ‘Gaudi’. His style unique, extravagant, original, earthy and simply stunning.  

Gaudi was born in 1852 and died in a tram accident in 1926. His most famous unfinished work, La Sagrada Familia hopefully will be finished by the time of the 100th anniversary of his death, in 2026. He left enough detailed information that the basilica can be completed, and with public donations it is a work in progress.

The interior of La Sagrada Familia is now open to the public, and the use of light from above and through the stained glass windows is mesmerizing. The columns branch out on top to support the structure, but it reflects his love of nature and looks like a forest.

His use of ceramic tile, wood, wrought iron, brick, colorful paint results in a stroll through a fantasy, as can be witnessed in the Pedrera, and Casa Batllo, as well as La Sagrada Familia, and even a park,  Park Guell.

His work is truly amazing, and once you’ve seen it, you’ll never forget it.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Montserrat by Margot Justes

Barcelona is gorgeous, and I decided to spend a couple of days before and a couple of days after the cruise in Barcelona. So much to see that four days wasn’t enough. Since the cruise ended on Sunday, disembarkation was early, ship docked at seven, and most everything was closed. It was the perfect time to go to Montserrat.

Montserrat is a monastery up high in the mountains, 38 kilometers from Barcelona and about an hour by bus. The setting is glorious, built into the mountain, with stunning views wherever you turn.

It was started around 1025, but the rich archeological history dates back to 3,000 years BC. The credit for the monastery’s existence is given to Abbot Oliba, a powerful figure in Romanesque Catalonia.  An aristocrat, he was elected Abbot of Ripoll. The Abbot and a group of monks decided to built the monastery, next to a chapel of Saint Mary.  

The Catalans to this day are extremely proud of their Catalonian heritage, and many Catalonian flags could be seen flying from apartment windows in Barcelona. There is even a current political movement for the Catalans to secede from Spain.  

There are a few ways to reach Montserrat, by cable car, bus, car or by rack railway. The road is narrow and winds up the mountain. I decided it was best to leave the driving to the professionals.  

Along with the church, monastery, library, meandering roads and artistic treasures, there is also a hotel, and when I go back I’d stay in the hotel for a couple of days. A few hours just wet my appetite for more.

There is a service in the church on Sunday, as well as a noon performance by the boys choir, so the church was filled to capacity and beyond. You literally couldn’t get in-it was packed solid- even a well oiled sardine would have a problem. I got a glimpse of the ornate church, but couldn’t handle all the humanity, it took me ten minutes from the very back of the church to get out the door, and fresh air.

There were a few tents set up on the main road, and local artisans sold their wares, the most prominent items displayed were various cheeses, honey, hams and fig cakes. Local delicacies, and I can vouch for the local hams. Positively yummy.

I just touched on Montserrat, if you find yourself in Barcelona, Montserrat is not to be missed.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Two Hotels in Barcelona by Margot Justes

This was a Mediterranean  cruise that departed from Barcelona, one of the major ports in Europe. A beautiful city with stunning architecture, Antoni Gaudi’s work alone is worth a visit. I stayed two nights before the cruise, and two nights after. I picked two different hotels, both were centrally located.

The first hotel in Barcelona, and one I would highly recommend was Hotel Casa Fuster; an intimate hotel with fewer than a hundred rooms, built in the Art Nouveau style of architecture, located in the center of town on 132 Passeig De Gracia.

Service was incomparable, room was beautiful, the roof top had spectacular views of the city, and a sumptuous breakfast that included eggs any style, Spanish ham and cheeses, excellent bread and a selection of coffees, made the stay perfect. I’m a breakfast person. They even had an industrial strength Nespresso machine. I started with a pot of coffee and hot steaming milk, and finished with the self serve Nespresso coffee.

The one thing that made the stay exceptional was the service. I stopped and asked about a visit to La Sagrada Familia, and was informed it is better to book a tour, otherwise the wait would be rather long. They called and reserved the tickets, and all I had to do was walk to the Julia travel agency near the church; about a twenty minute walk from the hotel. The agency was well known and had many offices in the city. It worked out perfectly well, and the guide was informative, and we had plenty of time to stay on our own after the tour ended. The hotel staff was right about the long wait.

The second hotel, the Majestic, also on 68 Passeig De Gracia, was contemporary, all marble and glass. As I got out of the taxi, I was asked by the porter in a top hat, if I had reservations. I didn’t want to be rude, so replied that yes, indeed I had reservations; however, an entirely different response came to mind. Not a good introduction to hotel, and it didn’t improve.

I requested an early arrival, and the hotel agreed, at least according to the travel agent. I checked in and was told that checkout was at noon, and I was early. They gave me a slip for the luggage, and told me that check in was at three.

I then asked about a tour to Montserrat, and the clerk at the registration desk showed me a private five hour car tour, to the tune of $600 hundred dollars. I said, I didn’t think so. I asked about a regular tour, she then tells me they are available, but we have to prepay with cash, or at least make a cash deposit, this way if we don’t show up, they keep the deposit.  No other effort was made-she lost interest when I declined the private car.

At this point I asked where was the nearest Julia office, and was told it’s a five minute cab ride. I asked her to show me on the map, and it turned out to be a ten minute walk from the hotel. I got my ticket, and off I went to Montserrat.

You could rent a car, and go on your own, but it was Sunday, besides the narrow road up the mountain was better left to the professionals. I’m really a quirky driver, and unless I’m in my own neck of the woods, as is my neighborhood, I leave the driving to others.

The breakfast was delicious, they had the obligatory omelet station, but the rest of the buffet was tapas style, and the Spanish ham, and various sausages, and cheeses were delicious. Coffee was excellent.  The Majestic also had a spectacular view of the city from the rooftop.

The rest of the staff at the Majestic was courteous, helpful and friendly. It’s amazing how first impressions and actions of the staff altered my perception of the hotel.

More about Barcelona next week.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Blood Art by Margot Justes

I thought I’d share the first chapter of Blood Art with you, my first paranormal release.
I loved writing it, and hope you enjoy reading it.

Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Blood Art

                                                             Chapter 1

Florence, Italy 1503

           “I am a vampire, Leonardo.”

“I am well aware of that fact Nikolai, but you have the soul of an artist.”

“I repeat. I am a vampire. And make no mistake—I have no soul.”

As a course for survival, Nikolai lost his soul centuries ago, but there was no reason in belaboring the point. Leonardo da Vinci was entitled to his belief.

Nikolai stood in the middle of the cavernous room and looked around him. Flickering candles cast shadows on the walls. A massive wooden desk was shoved against bare brick, one end piled with old rags coated in deep and rich colors. Leonardo's palette lay on the floor recklessly abandoned, and paint splashes had spilled onto the wooden floor, filling the wide cracks between the boards. A stale oil smell permeated the room; used candles were everywhere, surrounded by mounds of spent wax. A few books were stacked up on the floor against another wall, one on top of the other. An old wooden chair pushed against a corner, stained with crimson paint; the cushion looked like a splash of blood. A tapestry covered the wall where a makeshift straw bed lay on the floor.

“I repeat. You, my dear friend, have the soul of an artist. Vampire or not.”

“I collect art, hence our deep and abiding friendship—all due to your masterful accomplishments. I have no other such talents. At least, other than being eternal, ageless, and have an uncanny ability to amass a fortune at every opportunity. Typical vampire standards; anything I want, when I want, and how I want. Staying alive for eons does allow one to become complacent. Despite the danger, eternal existence does permit certain pleasures. And for me, the building of a sizable art collection is most gratifying, and a venture which I intend to continue through the ages.” The brusque, low voice was mesmerizing in its intensity, and hid any emotion, any visible trace of anguish. He simply stated these facts as if they were nothing, and common.

Nikolai Volkov watched as Leonardo picked up burned out candles and stray brushes he had left everywhere.

“Nikolai, you support artists that are being ignored, ridiculed. You redeem us. You recognize ageless talent. I am egotistical enough to say that in the coming centuries I will survive through my art.”

“Of that I have no doubt. Again, that is why I collect your paintings; your drawings alone are incomparable. I know you will survive. And you will increase my wealth substantially.” Nikolai turned and looked at the various paintings leaning against one of the stone walls. In the corner canvases were stacked in no particular order, and next to them wooden planks.

Leonardo's studio was plain, utilitarian, and filled with finished and unfinished works of art, all of which Nikolai coveted and wanted to own. Possess.

“Yes, I am sure I will survive, but only through my art. You have and will continue to survive through other means. Ones I do not wish to think about.”

“I have paid dearly for my survival.” Nikolai touched his cheek, feeling the ridge of the deep scar on his face. That attack had been particularly brutal. The cut went all the way to the bone, and not allowed to heal. Lucrezia Borgia told him it would mar his stunning beauty and further bind him to her, both physically and emotionally. She was wrong on both counts. He considered the scar his badge of courage and tenacity.

His surreal beauty, as she had once described it, now marred by that one scar. A reminder of torture. A memory not to be forgotten. Vampires do not scar, yet that one single scar on his body remained, as if an omen of things yet to come. Centuries of memories all held within that singular ridged cut on his face that slashed down to his very soul. The one he claimed not to have.

He was tall, over six-foot-three, with hair black as night. His eyes were as blue as sapphires and frigid as the Arctic ice. Nikolai was built hard, like Michelangelo's David, and just as cold.

The lethal combination fostered first and foremost fear from man and demon alike. And admiration, from women. All women. He never lacked for company. Yet, they all left him unsatisfied, and yearning for something he didn’t understand.

“Leonardo, will you paint a portrait for me?” Nikolai spoke quietly, staring at a painting stacked against a wall, his back to Leonardo.


“No. Not me.” Nikolai replied, his bleak smile was more of a grimace that did not reach his eyes. “This will be from memory. My memory.”

“Does she mean something to you? I assume you are speaking of a woman.”

“Yes, I was. And yes, she meant something to me.” He ran his finger along the jagged scar.

“Ah, I see. I gather she was not a pleasant memory.”

“You gather correctly.”

“I will do it for you. Tell me everything you know about her. Every single memory. Every movement. Everything you remember. Give me a perfect description of the mysterious woman. It will be my gift to you.”

“I do not wish to keep the painting.” Nikolai visibly shuddered at the thought. “You may do with it what you will. Burn it in hell for all I care.” His reply was savage.

“I see.” Leonardo replied thoughtfully, rubbing his chin. “Why do you want me to paint it?”

“To exorcise a demon. One among many.”

“Do you wish to discuss it, my friend?”

“No. Just paint the damn thing. You will be well paid.”

“No,” Leonardo replied vehemently, shaking his hand in the air. “There will be no money changing hands. I will paint it. I will not burn it; I will sell it. I do have a payment to demand of you. Once I am done, I expect to hear why I painted it. That is my demand. Do you agree?”

“Yes, damn you. I will agree to your terms. Your absurd demand.”

“Why absurd? She obviously damaged you. I would have to be an idiot not to recognize the symptoms. And I am not an idiot.”

“Yes, I am fully aware that you are not an idiot. You should be terrified of me. Yet you are not. You reason things out. You think. A vampire, even in your century, should horrify you. Yet, I do not.”

“You terrify me, all right. Your power. Your strength. Your ability to kill without thought. Your survival through the centuries. Your knowledge of the past. Yes, you alarm me, my friend.”

“Alarm…that is a milksop statement. Leonardo, look at your own drawings. You see what is to come. What does that say about you? Your work foreshadows the future. It is there, in your drawings.” Nikolai pointed to a canvas leaning against a wall. “You are more than an artist; our long discussions have proven that. You are a genius. A man of re-birth. You, here and now, could be considered demonic. That is how some would interpret your work.”

“I will ignore that. It is safer not to discuss people and their survival methods—it might be misunderstood. Fortunately for me, my work is not well understood. Most everyone sees a painting or a drawing, nothing more. Perhaps they even think I am mad. A simple man cannot interpret what I imagine simply by looking at my work. That is indeed very good for me.” Leonardo sighed. “Now, let us get back to your description of the woman.”

“Have I touched a sensitive spot?” The vampire asked, sarcasm dripped from every word.

“Yes.” Leonardo hissed between his teeth. “Now, give me the damn description.”

“Paint her as you would a beloved portrait. Make her mysterious. Enigmatic. Serene. Perfectly poised to attract attention. Paint her as the central and pivotal person in the scene. In fact blur everything else. Nothing should matter much save her face and hands. Long, beautiful fingers, elegant hands with perfect skin, relaxed. Incapable of hard work. Make her look innocent. Wistful.” Nikolai stopped speaking, and again touched his face along the line of the scar.

“Make the damn demon, the savage beast…saintly. That will be the joke for centuries to come. Paint it dark, yet give her light. A shimmer, so that she almost glows. Make her irresistible. Give her eyes that damn the soul. Eyes that see beyond the present. Is that enough for you?” Nikolai demanded.

“Yes. Do I have leave to choose the color of her hair and eyes?” Leonardo asked quietly, captivated by Nikolai’s mesmerizing voice and the tortured memories he was reliving.

“I do not care what color you choose. Dark is what I desire.”

“It shall be done. You want her to look enigmatic, a mystery through the ages. How is that for conceit? She will survive centuries, whereas I will die.”

“You, my friend, will be reborn every time someone looks at your work. But you already know that. Your art will speak for you for eternity.”

“Let us continue as we have in the past, Nikolai.” Leonardo preferred to ignore rather than acknowledge the reality of his existence. “Your life is eternal. You do not age. Let us leave it at that. Be careful not be recognized, it might endanger you.”

“I am four hundred years old. Through the centuries of battles, corruption, and betrayal, no one pays any attention to whether or not I age. Everyone is consumed with their own survival. I expect that in the future, I shall need to take better care.”

“Take better care, but live. Even if you cannot be killed, live as you have done in the past.” Leonardo spoke softly, as if afraid of being overheard.

“I aim to live better, and I can be killed; one just has to know how. I certainly do not discuss that aspect of my survival. I am alone, removed from my clan. Solitary, my lair and art my only comfort. It has been this way for centuries and, make no mistake, Leonardo—it is a lonely existence. You, my friend are a true master and you bring me a great deal of pleasure. Someday your work will be priceless. Look at your drawings. See the things I see in your work. You behold the future in front of you.”

 “Indeed.” Leonardo dismissed Nikolai's predictions with a wave of his hand. “I may need you again, after I begin the portrait, of course.” Leonardo spoke absentmindedly, stretching his fingers, already thinking about the unusual commission.

“Of course, I am always available to you. How will you explain the mystery woman?” Nikolai's curiosity got the better of him.

“I will not. There will be rumors. A model. A mistress. A wife. A requested portrait by a well to do merchant.  I myself will perpetuate said rumors,” Leonardo replied, a wide smile lining his face.

“Brilliant, Leonardo. As I have said, your work will be priceless.”

“Do you wish to change your mind and purchase the portrait?”

“No.” Nikolai shuddered, turned, and slammed the massive door behind him. He took a deep breath, a normal human reaction one he'd used so frequently that he no longer even thought about it. He walked outside and realized that had his heart been beating, it would have stopped at the mere suggestion that he keep the portrait of his tormentor and captor. Damn the Borgias. All of them.

Nikolai walked to his lair and thought about his life, lost in memories of long ago. He heard a rustle of leaves, a shrill scream, and then silence. His speed was as fast as the wind, and as quiet as death. He reached a man kneeling over the body of a woman. She lay on the ground, unconscious, her face bloody and leg twisted unnaturally, her arms outstretched. The man reached to lift her torn skirt. Nikolai lost all veneer of civility, his fury reflected in his blood-red eyes and extended fangs. He showed no mercy.

He grabbed the man, then effortlessly lifted him off the ground and threw him against a tree. He heard a crunch but didn't bother to look back. He reached down and tenderly touched the bruise on the woman's face, her split lip where the man had obviously hit her with his fist. Nikolai's touch healed her. He straightened the leg and massaged it. She would have a few bruises, but nothing that would last more than a few days. He lifted her in his arms and carried her back to Leonardo's.

Leonardo would help the less fortunate, the few strays Nikolai occasionally brought him. He always did.

On his way home, hunger struck. His fangs lengthened, but he would not feed from the vermin he'd destroyed. He'd lure someone else.

Nikolai once again pondered his existence. He'd just destroyed a life and felt no remorse. He knew that if he had not interfered, the woman would have been raped and most likely killed. He felt nothing for the life he so easily extinguished. The bastard deserved it.

Alone, Nikolai had few friends, and he chose not to search for any members of his clan, or any other vampires. He'd had his suspicions about several people he knew, but preferred not to bring any attention to his own existence.

His path to emotional survival and redemption forbid getting involved in battles not of his own choosing. He searched for his salvation and ultimately some meaning to his eternal existence. His senseless killing sprees subsided long ago. Finished. Now he only killed when necessary. To end evil, be it human or otherwise.

Nikolai thought about his captor and tormentor, and as always waited for her to come after him. Addicted to his blood, Lucrezia would move heaven and earth to get him back. She could do nothing else; the addiction was like a disease. He promised himself next time that she would not survive. He learned a great deal through the centuries, including how to outlast and outwait a demon. Patience. He had a great deal of patience for certain things. Eternity will teach you that, if nothing else.

Long ago, Nikolai escaped from his torments. He emerged into putrid air contaminated with lost souls, but he was free. Alone. No longer a captive to be tortured against his will. No longer raped. No longer beaten. No longer slashed and starved. She taught him to kill without thought, whether for revenge or retribution. He did not care; he had killed to gain physical and mental freedom.

The paintings and sculptures he'd gleaned while still a captive brought him salvation. Those pieces he took from her as payment for his suffering. She paid a heavy price for the abuse she gave, and in his mind, she would forever be a living nightmare. Her name was indelible in his memory: Lucrezia Borgia.

He'd called her the demon queen of torment, for indeed she knew how to inflict the utmost pain. The rack became a pleasure in comparison to what else he'd suffered. His limbs were stretched and pulled, his life's blood spilled, and still that wasn't enough for her. She'd turned him to keep him forever young, make him hers to use  as she pleased. Lucrezia became addicted to him, and that was her folly. His doom. Her ultimate mistake.

Once freed from her rule, and on through the ages, he saw redemption in art and the painters and sculptors who made a difference in the art world. The geniuses of the centuries, like Leonardo da Vinci, one among so few.

Nikolai's speed increased. He was eager to reach his home atop a hill, his fortress built with massive stones and rocks that allowed for defense, along with an underground chamber where he could rest in peace, unencumbered by anyone or anything. The fortress was designed so that any room could be kept pitch black—the windows tiny, the glass that was there was thick and crinkly. The curtains were made from heavy brocade that blocked all sunlight and the world outside.

Priceless tapestries hung on the walls, for warmth that he didn't need, and the pleasure that he craved. The absolute joy of holding a canvas, or feeling the texture of a magnificent tapestry, was his salvation in life, offering comfort and contemplation.

Nikolai longed for peace and searched for the one woman who would matter, who would end the unbearable loneliness. In the meantime, he did what he could to make life better for others. He tried to hide the arrogance, the strength, and all the other characteristics, everything that comes with being a vampire. Not ashamed of who and what he was, but age has taught him the old adage that discretion was indeed the better part of valor.

Through the centuries, he added to his already enormous art collection, and added to his own power as a demon.

The instinct of the vampire to survive was always present and a huge part of his survival, but he adapted to humanity. His chosen style of solitude served him well. Over time, he learned not to kill to feed, but allow his victims to survive without ill effects, and without memories of his presence. He no longer destroyed unless threatened, but then he had no mercy, his brutality hidden beneath the veneer of sophistication and age-old wisdom. But the brutality existed when needed.

His countless properties were managed by people he trusted and of whom he took great care. His people were loyal to him beyond question, and from one generation to the next, they stayed and worked with him, providing a sense of family and belonging. A ruthless businessman, he was fair and honest in his dealings with others. Betrayal was not in his vocabulary. No one crossed him; the sheer power that emanated from his presence, his cold, frigid eyes that appeared to look through to the deepest and darkest secrets of an adversary, instilled fear in anyone that he came in contact with.

Through the lonely centuries he'd had a foreshadowing of a looming battle, one he'd personally have to fight.

The when, how, and where wasn't clear as yet, but he knew it was coming.























Thursday, October 17, 2013

We Moved!! by DL Larson

Come join the move ~ we're at Book Beat Babes

I'm reaffirming my need to write!

See you there ~

DL Larson

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Fun in Sydney by Margot Justes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would recommend a travel book, I usually tend to stick with Frommer’s; the layout is easy to read, and I just tag what interests me. If you don’t want to tour the city independently, there are many tours available.

I research the hotels on line, and usually pick them based on location, and easy access to sites, or public transportation. Sometimes I book through the hotel directly, on line, or I use a travel agent; in some cases travel agents have a better deal than you can find yourself. I check all options. 

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

I hope you enjoyed the blogs on Sydney and Cairns as much as I enjoyed writing them.
Coming soon another set of blogs on Barcelona, and a Mediterranean Cruise.

Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hearts & Daggers
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
Blood Art

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Moving Day Will Be Here Soon! by DL Larson

If everything goes according to plan, this may be my last blog on Acme Authors. We, our writers blog group, are moving to our new location next week. Look for us at Book Beat Babes at

I have enjoyed blogging each week at Acme Authors. I've shared so much of my writing goals and beliefs, shared much of my personal life as a librarian, mom and grammie and how that all comes together as a writer.

It's going to be a new experience at Book Beat Babes, one I hope you will enjoy and become a follower. We plan to host guests who are creative and innovative in their writing careers. Feel free to hop over to our new site and see the guest list.

We have a great line-up of regulars too. I will continue on as before, blogging each Thursday. Please continue to share your thoughts with me as I have with you for these last several years.

So come join the party!

Til next time ~

DL Larson

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Sydney Museums by Margot Justes

Depending on your stay, and things you like to do you won’t be disappointed in Sydney.
Aside from the Opera House, the Harbor Bridge, wonderful restaurants, and I’ve heard an active night life.  Can’t tell you much about night life-I’m an early riser, pack a full day when on the road, and am exhausted by ten. A nightcap in my hotel is about it for the night scene for me.

If your tastes run to museums, as mine does, there are a few to visit.

There is the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney’s answer to the Chicago Art Institute. Overlooking the Sydney Harbor and the Botanic Gardens, it is a relaxing, well lit museum that showcases Australian Artists, and has a huge display of Aboriginal art, along with a fine collection of European and Asian, and of course Australian art. It’s a museum that is easy to visit, at a comfortable pace. I prefer the smaller, more intimate museums, less angst that I’m missing something.

Over a million people visit the museum annually. The week we were there, there was a school holiday and the museums were filled with parents and children.

The Museum of Contemporary Art, located in the Rocks area-considered to be the oldest part of Sydney. The building is modern and quite lovely, and if you like modern art, you will enjoy the visit. I found a few exhibits I really enjoyed and some that were downright funny.

The Australian Museum, established in 1827, is considered Australia’s oldest museum, and covers natural history, Australian animals, and I actually got see a Cassowary Bird. There is a skeleton room, gems, and interactive kiddie areas. There is also the Indigenous Australians display, along with local cultural heritage galleries, among them displays that highlight the Aboriginal life .

While we were there, toward the end of our visit, bits of dust and soot started coming down from the vents; it was raining all sorts of speckled stuff.  Then the fire alarm went off. The exit from the museum was orderly, no panic ensued. I don’t know what happened, but by the time we were outside, the fire trucks were already in place.

The Rocks Discovery Museum, located in the oldest part of Sydney, provides a wonderful history of the Rocks, along with a terrific collection of pre-1788 artifacts.  This museum takes you back to the beginning, when English sailors, whalers,  traders and adventurers made the area their home. I think it was my favorite area in Sydney.

The Australian National Maritime Museum, features historic vessels, along with a full-scale replica of Captain Cook’s ship, the HMB Endeavour. While I was there was an Ansel Adams exhibit, Photography from the Mountains to the Sea. That was a delightful added bonus.

There are others, but I picked the ones that most interested me.

More next week.

Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hearts & Daggers
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
coming soon Blood Art

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Season of Change? by DL Larson

Besides the turning of the leaves, the apples ripe for picking, pumpkins ready to be decorated and the cornfields nearing maturity for harvest, the season in our nation's capitol is not in sync with nature.

The fight is an old one, with ugly fingers stretching across this beautiful land. Our congressmen spend more time playing the blame game, waiting for deadlines, crying the sky is falling, as they suck up energy and money at an alarming pace. This too is nothing new. The political cartoons of the 1800's were nasty and spread nearly as fast as the internet sends news today. The bickering between parties was vicious with much name calling and blustering and closed doors to progress. The years rolled by with a few compromises to land expansion, slavery issues, and another political contest to see which party could reach California first where money was in plenty, or so the stories went. And all the while the regular, hard-working folks of America wondered where is all this leading?

It lead us right into a devastating war between ourselves.

We, as a nation, need to pull together, not apart. Our congressmen need to be held accountable for not doing their job when they had the opportunity to do so. This waiting until deadlines arrive is immature and petty. We, as a nation, shouldn't have to sit in fear, worrying if reason and compromise will win the day. Congressmen are elected officials who take home a hefty paycheck, have retirement benefits most of us would love to have, yet they continue to fail at their job.

No one wants children to go without. No one wants the elderly to go without! To say one side over another wants this is school yard bullying and insults all Americans that such nonsense makes headline news.

Folks need insurance. But we don't have to make it so complicated that no one understands it. That is no way to run a country. Giving breaks to big businesses for a year is not right and everyone knows that. This is not rocket science, folks. This is plain Economics 101. Holding smaller businesses accountable will only make more of them fold. And how, dear congressmen, will that help our economy?

What this nation needs is a strong mama figure. Someone who can say, "hey, you there, sit down and mind your manners." "And you, take that pile of papers and do it right this time. Don't come back until it makes sense!" "And you, there, still running your mouth with lies and more lies. I have a bar of soap with your name on it." Then she would turn to the others and say, "don't you have something to do? Get to work. Show me something I can be proud of."

Because, folks, I want to be proud of this nation, my nation, your nation. So congressmen, "GIVE US SOMETHING WE CAN BE PROUD OF."

Contact your Congressmen today! Let's get America back on its feet again.

Til next time ~

DL Larson

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Up North

Up North this week for the Fall colors in Wisconsin. The trees are gorgeous, as is the weather, upper 60s and low 70s!

Sharing some of the Fall scenery with you today.

Morgan Mandel
Twitter: @MorganMandel

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Apple Picking

Yesterday we did one of our favorite fall activities: Apple Picking!

It was a beautiful day and we got lots of apples and a couple of pumpkins, too!

Now I can't wait for apple sauce, apple cider, apple pie, pumpkins seeds, and pumpkin pie! Yum!

Until next time,

Happy Reading!