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Thursday, August 23, 2018

Gaudi in Barcelona by Margot Justes

One of the projects I'm currently working on is A Hotel in Barcelona, and I cannot think of Barcelona without thinking about the whimsical architecture of Antoni Gaudi.

If you love architecture, and whimsical work that makes you smile, feel happy and celebrate life, then there is no better place for you than Barcelona. That is where you’ll find Antoni Gaudi’s work, and where you will commune with nature in a most wonderful way.

There are the Dali, Picasso and Miro museums, but Gaudi’s work alone is worth a trip to Barcelona, many of his buildings were designated World Heritage Sites. In 1878 upon receiving his degree, the Director of the School of Architecture of Barcelona, said. “I don’t know if we have given this qualification to a madman or a genius, only time will tell.” Time has told, an unequivocal original genius.

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 cannot really be classified, it’s unique, extravagant, original, earthy, beyond whimsy, and simply stunning.  

Gaudi was born in 1852 and died in a tram accident in 1926. His last days were spent at his most famous unfinished work, La Sagrada Familia. There is hope that it will be finished by 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 reach the top to support the structure, and it reflects his love of nature, showing a dazzling and lively interpretation of a forest with branches reaching for the light.

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 buildings, as well as La Sagrada Familia, and Park Guell, where a serpentine bench provides a respite, along with a pure sense of joy.

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


Margot  Justes

Blood Art

A Hotel in Paris

A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Venice

Saturday, May 26, 2018

A Visit from Hurricane Irma by Margot Justes

I moved to Florida last June for warmth, since Alexandria turned out to have cold and damp winters, and I’m not getting any younger. It was a joyous occasion, warm, in fact hot, hot in summer, but I spent July and August either in the pool, or in air conditioning. Any walking was done bright and early in the morning. So far so good, until September that is-when a major hurricane decided to fully welcome me to Florida.

Just as in Alexandria, second winter there we had a blizzard, a real blizzard, except there were no snow plows, no salt, only lots of snow, blowing wind and cold.  The first year in Florida, in our little corner of paradise, we have a hurricane barreling our way.

My newly minted son-in-law, who once worked for FEMA, asked me if I was prepared? My response, I have coffee, and milk. What else is needed? I’m good. I was also an idiot. As someone who is used to research, I failed miserably. Son-in-law persisted, asking what happens if you have no power, no water, how exactly are you going to make that coffee? You may be stranded for days. What’s going to happen to your milk in the fridge? Things I never thought of, but should have, that is where basic common sense should kick in.

It was then that the litany began from son-in-law, for which by the way I’m exceedingly grateful. Fill tub, and anything you can with water, go to the store and buy more water, canned foods, supplies that do not need refrigeration, batteries, battery operated emergency radio, little sterno stove, all the things I didn’t think off, but in reality, should have.

Once it sank in that this was really happening, I listened and moved speedily, went to store and was able to get all the supplies, except for the sterno stove, that was sold out everywhere. Water, and general food supplies were plentiful, and our local Publix delivered goods every day, until the trucks could no longer make the deliveries safely. As always there were people who waited until the last possible minute, and then complained there was no water or bread.

There was more, take pictures of everything in the home, it’ll be easier to deal with insurance company later, if necessary. Set up a cell phone link with immediate family, just to let them know things are well. And next time head for the hills before hurricane hits…which I promised to do.  

I should also explain, that I live 34ft above sea level, that is a veritable mountain in Florida, it was not in the evacuation zone, and in fact people under evacuation were told to come here. If we had been told to evacuate, I would have. Not listening endangers us all, especially the first responders.

I also realized, a bit too late to do anything about it, that staying caused a great deal of fear and distress for family.

The day before it hit, our maintenance crew walked around to make sure nothing would be airborne. The tennis courts were bare, all outdoor facilities were cleared, all chairs, umbrellas, tables by the pool were stored inside, the area looked desolate. Yes, I went swimming, weather was still good.

Neighbors walked around to make sure everyone’s flower pots, decorations were safely stored. Even metal benches near our ponds were turned down, all the activity was interesting to witness. Inside, garage doors were bracketed down, and all windows were securely locked.

The day of the hurricane, the TV was on all day, with excellent continuous weather coverage, literally up to the minute changes in the path of the hurricane, the strength, and the dangers involved, area by area. One thing I’m still trying to figure out is the necessity of the live news reports from cars on the road, and especially reporters on foot, who were almost swept away by rain and wind.  

As the day wore on, the winds picked up speed, and I have never heard such howling and buzzing, and I want to say baritone whining. I was amazed how far the trees swayed and bent without breaking, such fury, and the house backs up to the forest preserves, the noise seemed amplified. It was fascinating to watch. One thing I will say about the house, the wind was horrific, but I did not hear the windows rattle.  Sleep did not come easily, especially since every few minutes there would be a tornado warning.  That I didn’t expect, never before did I associate hurricanes with tornados.

The storm lasted overnight, and next morning after the bulk of the storm passed, we lost power for twelve hours, the house remained dry, our street did flood, but was cleared and cleaned relatively quickly. Kudos to our maintenance crew, who stayed overnight in the clubhouse in case of an emergency. Most of us wound up cooking and baking stuff to make sure they wouldn’t go hungry. 

Our community came through beautifully, we had frequent updates from the president of the board, on the status of our preparedness, and neighbor took care of neighbor. No one flinched, and the old timers kept saying, been through it before, don’t worry, it’ll be okay. And luckily it was.

I might add that this Christmas I received a full hurricane emergency kit from younger daughter and son-in-law, and I do mean full kit, from huge expandable plastic water containers, to radio, sterno stove and fuel, among many other things.


Margot  Justes

Blood Art

A Fire Within

A Hotel in Paris

A Hotel in Bath

A Hotel in Venice

Friday, May 18, 2018

Repeat Website Visits by Margot Justes

I have been absent from the blogging world, simply because I thought there were too many, and we have only so much time to read all the stuff we’re inundated with on a daily basis.

Recently I have become aware that many people who visit my website are repeat customers, and are probably looking for fresh tidbits, and I have been neglectful, and haven’t provided any. My awareness should you ask-came from tracking my website stats-finally, better late than not at all.  

Many are visiting my website looking for travel information, apparently some of the search engines send new customers my way, and those people are likely disappointed in the results, again, nothing new posted, besides my travel blogs were merely insights into places and things I enjoy doing while travelling.

It’s been a busy couple of years, I have moved-yes, again-further South for warmth and the occasional hurricane. Irma would have been a terrific blog, since I was home, and the experience was interesting to put it mildly, and now that I think of it, will write and post it.

In February I went on a Caribbean cruise with friends, and fell in love with Curacao, again, another blog just popped into my head, so far two to go.

Writing has been slow going, I can find plenty of excuses, but they would be just that-excuses-except for the novella from hell, that simply will not end, no matter how many times I edit, the ending eludes me.

The sequel to A Fire Within is almost done, and since I do not plot my stories, I’m what is known as a panster-I write by the seat of my pants-hence panster. I start with a tiny basic outline, and then I let the characters drive the story…that is how I became a romance writer, instead of cozy mystery writer. The characters clicked in A Hotel in Paris, and I had to learn about romance. In this particular case, they’re not doing well at all.  

There are two tasks that I aim to finish, namely preparedness, and not taking advice from family for a major hurricane coming our way, and a new travel blog. Please wish me luck.


Margot  Justes

Blood Art

A Fire Within

A Hotel in Paris

A Hotel in Bath

A Hotel in Venice

Monday, September 26, 2016

A Touch of Paris by Margot Justes

I’m heading to Rome next week, since I’m am flying Air France, there is a short layover at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. Sadly by the time I booked the flight, I couldn’t arrange for a longer stay. It did however bring to mind the time I lived there, and then just like now, memories came flooding back when I decided to set my first book in this magical city.

I hope you enjoy this brief visit.

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.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Pictures from Cairns, Australia by Margot Justes

I thought I'd share a few pictures from my 2013 trip to Cairns, Australia. The place is gorgeous, and in spite of the long flight I want to go back.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Fun Surprise by Margot Justes

Today I have a fun surprise I'd like to share with you. 

To celebrate the summer, I've teamed up with 35 fantastic romantic suspense authors to give away a huge collection of romances, PLUS a KIndle Fire to one lucky winner!

You can win A Hotel in Venice. Enter the giveaway by clicking here:

Margot Justes

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Little Knidness by Margot Justes

Kindness matters, yet we’ve been seduced by negative commentary, as if appearance, how someone looks, or dresses is the all important gauge of success or relevance. In my book, it is not, kindness, tolerance, and acceptance of others is.

How often do we take the time to just whisper thank you to one in particular. Just a whispered thank you. How often do we count our blessings? How often do we take the time to just relax?  How often do we smile for no reason at all? I think we should, on a daily basis. If we did that, we’d see how lucky we are, because there are always others that are worse off.  

We get on with our daily lives, but most of us are blessed, sure enough we have problems, various ills, issues at work, with friends, at home, all the daily stuff that I call drudge stuff, but it is in fact life.

With age comes wisdom, or at least that is what everyone says. Wisdom to take a breath and say thanks, wisdom to know the difference between what is important, and what is superfluous.

I’ve always had the philosophy that you should do what you can now, tomorrow is not guaranteed. Don’t wait to call family and friends. Don’t wait to be kind, and helpful. Don’t wait to do what makes you happy; take that road trip, read that book, visit that family member or friend.  Stay physically connected to the people important in your life, and don’t let minor disagreements destroy those human connections.

We’re so hooked on those electronic gizmos that we lose sight of what matters. You go to lunch with friends, sit down and start texting.  Wasn’t it the idea to go to lunch with friends-sans the electronic equipage-is it really that important to answer that text? Don’t we get a break, maybe more to the point do we want that break? I know I do. Am I missing something, or is it just the age difference. You know, the with age comes wisdom adage.

Last week, I was walking out of Macy’s and a young thing bumped into me at the door, she didn’t even know I was there, didn’t look up, just plowed ahead. She was busy texting, and what was more telling, she didn’t even apologize. Must be the age thing again. To me kindness, and manners are important, they represent a civilized and thoughtful approach to our dealings with each other. It should not be that difficult.

On that note, take a breath, be thankful, and let's be kind to others.

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