Follow by Email

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Holidays by Margot Justes

It seems strange that with the struggling economy our Costco was packed by nine thirty this morning, but maybe not so strange, maybe we've realized what is important-family and friends- and that you don't have to spend a bloody fortune to make someone's day.

A bit of thoughtfulness goes a long way. Let's say you have a friend who loves Ghirardelli chocolate and glass, two stops will give you the perfect gift and you haven't spent a fortune.

Costco sells a big bag of assorted Ghirardelli chocolates, of course it's oversized, it is Costco after all.

Home Goods sells beautiful Italian glass, there is plenty of stuff made in China, but if you take a bit of time to look around the store you will find lovely Italian pieces.

A perfect delicious gift that will be appreciated immediately and remembered long after the holidays are over. Just a bit of thought goes a long way.

I have friends who love my poppy seed cake, this year they will get the cake and a rectangular glass tray that will fit the cake. I'm very partial to glass too.

Simplification is good, making life easier and less stressful is good, but it shouldn't mean sacrificing a bit of the holiday spirit, a bit of the kindness, a bit of that extra effort that we seem to extend to others.

Wouldn't it be nice if that holiday spirit continued throughout the year.

Till next time,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Holiday Season by Margot Justes

During the holiday season there doesn't seem to be enough time to do everything, and every year the pressure mounts to do more, shop more, plan more activities until there isn't enough time to take a breath. By the time the holidays arrive, we're too exhausted to enjoy.

This year I decided to simplify my life and really enjoy the season. I'll still have my holiday party but only for family and really close friends. Most of it will be catered by Giacomo's, a wonderful Italian restaurant in Des Plaines. The food is delicious and tastes as if home made, and prices are very reasonable.

The decorations will still go up, but fewer little ornaments all over the place, lights will make up the difference. I'll still bake most of the standard family favorites, but will shop at Costco for a few of their seasonal delights. Love Costco!

Made reservations for tea at the Drake Hotel and a short hop to visit old friends at the Art Institute. My favorite holiday tradition and one I plan to keep.

I'm all set with presents for the munchkins, my daughter bless her heart, did all the shopping on-line and I just wrote a check. This way I know they will love what they get and it made it very easy for me. I'm all in favor of that ...

So far, it's been less hectic and I actually have written a few words here and there.
I even appreciate a bit of rain-like today, it's lovely, a perfect fall day

I wonder how others are handling the holiday season.

Till next time,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Visit to the Vatican by Margot Justes

I booked a tour to the Vatican, for my next visit I will buy tickets ahead of time and go on my own. Spend time at my leisure and not worry about tour.

We had 10 minutes in the Sistine Chapel, that was just about enough time to walk across the rectangular Chapel, try not to bump anyone in the process and barely see the ceiling, much less the walls.

That being said, the Chapel is stunning. As I looked up at the magnificent ceiling I wondered how Michelangelo could survive such an ordeal, to create those stunning images laying on his back for hours on end. The nine frames on the ceiling tell the story of creation , Adam and Eve and Noah. The altar wall depicts the Last Judgment, filled with fire and brimstone. The Chapel simply takes your breath away.

St. Peter's Basilica is enormous, everything is made from marble, it is magnificent and filled with unbelievable treasures, chief among them is Michelangelo's deeply moving Pieta. Now hidden behind glass and high enough to keep people from getting too close.

My first view of the Pieta was many, many years ago and back then you could get close, within touching range, but an idiot took a hammer to the Pieta and caused quite a bit of damage. Now it is protected from harm and humanity.

Vatican is a living, breathing museum and very little can be seen in five hours, when you take into account the enormous size of the place and the multitude of visitors, and let's not forget the tour group you're with.

What I should have done was stay on my own after the tour ended, but I didn't think of it until after I got back. By the time I got back to the hotel it was almost three in the afternoon, I was tired and hungry- heaven forbid I should miss a meal-so I went up to the terrace restaurant and had a delicious late lunch.

Till next time,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, November 12, 2011

More Travel by Margot Justes

The second day in Rome started with a scrumptious breakfast at the Sofitel. Just the selection of coffee was impressive, from an espresso, to cappuccino, a French Press or settle for the American brew. I started with the French Press, got my own pot and steaming hot was off to great start.

Next came the bread selection, from flaky croissants, to baguettes and everything in between, to puff pastry sweet rolls. I was in heaven. Let's not forget the cheeses, from a triple cream Brie to goat and pecorino selections. Let's just say I was going to have to walk a lot. They even had dates and figs, along with eggs, omelets, sausages, fruit, and the usual gamut of buffet selections. I ended my meal with a cappuccino and a sweet roll with ricotta cheese. I did finish the pot of coffee did not go to waste.

Next on the agenda, was a tour to the Vatican. To save time, I booked the tour with American Express while still at home. The bus arrived promptly and off we were to the Vatican, or so I thought.

Instead we were deposited at the offices of the tour company and waited while they figured out how many buses they would need. Buses and tourists were everywhere, sort of like the United Nations-many languages were heard and it was fun trying to identify them. I even followed a couple who spoke French. I tend to do that whenever I hear the language, besides not much was going on.

About twenty minutes later we were assigned a bus number that was supposed to be for English speaking tourists. We headed toward the bus, the number matched but the language did not-Spanish-read the big sign. We stopped in front of the bus and waited.

A little debate ensued between the tour guides, signs were switched and we boarded the bus, a bit apprehensive we hoped it was the right one. When the guide spoke in English we heaved a sigh of relief; we were on the right bus and finally on the way to the Vatican.

Even with a tour group, there was a delay in getting in. We first had to stop and get our headsets, make sure they all worked; when you have a bus full of people it takes a bit of time. Not to mention there were many tour groups.

Once we were all set, we followed the guide and headed toward the entrance, always making sure her red umbrella held high could be seen. You do not want to be separated from your guide, and believe me, it is easy to do.

The winding double line moved slowly, but no one seemed to mind. The tour guide stated that 25,000 tourists visit the Vatican daily. I can understand why, it is an amazing place and impossible to see in one day, much less 5 hours.

Till next time,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Travel by Margot Justes

I haven't posted a blog for a while, thought I'd be able to do it while on vacation...I was wrong.

The flight to Rome left on time, the plane was half full, or empty depending on how you see it, and we landed on time, eight in the morning. Italian customs process not a breeze, long lines that moved at a snail's pace, but it was expected and the process seemed exciting, because Roma was waiting for me.

I arranged for a driver before leaving home and was happy to see him. I recognized him immediately, he was holding a plaque with my name plastered on it...even for me it was hard to miss. Things were good.

The hotel room was not ready, but they promised a lovely room and stored the baggage. I was free to spend my first day in Rome, and since the hotel was within walking distance of practically everything, especially the Spanish Steps, I headed there first, but not before stopping for an espresso.

Did you know that Italians stand at a counter and gulp their espresso. I found out that if you stand the price is cheaper than if you sit down at a table. It was the quick inhale of the brew that had me amazed, like a shot. I savored mine.

I made it down the Spanish steps, many, many steps, walked around all the lovely little cobble stone streets. Amazingly enough the locals wore heels and the cobblestones had big gaps between them. I watched how well they maneuvered to miss what looked like pot holes. Most tourists knew better and wore comfortable shoes.

Stopped at a lovely outdoor cafe and had lunch, was serenaded by a couple of tenors, after they passed a hat and demanded a tip, they moved on to the next cafe.

The Sofitel delivered as promised-we has a suite, absolutely gorgeous with a balcony and a fantastic view of Rome, and there was a Nespresso machine in the room, so I could enjoy delicious coffee at will. The stay at the Sofitel was simply amazing, I would recommend the hotel without any reservations on my part-you need to make reservations to actually stay there.

What a terrific start to the vacation...more next week

Till next time,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Voices by Margot Justes

People often ask where do writers get their ideas? It seems intriguing to come up with a scene, develop characters, plot out the story, bleed repeatedly over every page and finally have a final product.

As the saying goes-truth is stranger than fiction-how many times do we hear a news story and say "I never would have thought of that, or seriously, someone did what?" Talk about suspending your disbelief-just pick up the paper or listen to the news, fiction has nothing on real life.

I don't think I'm the only writer out there in fiction-land that hears voices in my head, and listens as characters hold their own conversations, and clamor for their own stories.

I find it entertaining, and at the same time somewhat of a challenge, because at the most inopportune times they pop in and hold a conversation. That is how a premise for my new novella came about. The secondary characters from A Fire Within demanded their own story, and they will get it.

I don't even have a working title yet, but there have been so many stories about art recently that I won't have a problem selecting what kind of fraud, theft, or forgery I want to write about. The best part, it may be another joint venture with Amy Alessio and Mary Welk, set around Halloween 2012.

I wonder how many of us hear those voices that refuse to remain silent, and wind up in a story.

Till next time,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Tidbits by Margot Justes

We often complain how time 'flies' it doesn't just seems as if it does.

Take today for instance, I drank a pot of coffee-nothing unusual there-happens most weekends if I'm home, made some mushroom barley soup, did laundry, all the mundane everyday things that aren't done during the week, and are saved for the weekend.

I sat down at the computer and realized half the day is gone. I don't know where it went, and have very little to show for it, (except of course for the clean laundry and huge pot of soup)but it seems to have flown.

In the meantime, new writing projects are not 'flying', in fact they seem not to be moving forward at all, except the three pages I added to Hotel in Venice and a page to Memories of a Country Long Ago, and the continuous editing of existing projects.

Time has been spent polishing Blood Art and A Hotel in Bath. I regained my rights to A Hotel in Paris and I'm editing that too, as well as writing a new end to A Fire Within.

All in all I can pretty much figure out where the time went, it did fly, but at least I know the manuscript pages.

I have some good news-Amy Alessio, Mary Welk and I will release our 3 novellas in time for Valentine's Day, tentative date is January 1, 2012. This is an old project that has been resurrected, and I'm absolutely delighted at the prospect of working together with Amy and Mary.

Till next time,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Operation Paperback by Margot Justes

I’ve mentioned Operation Paperback before.

To use their words, “Operation Paperback is a non-profit organization that collects gently used books nationwide and sends them to American troops deployed overseas.” Since 1999, the organization shipped over 1.3 million books to our soldiers.

We collect books at work and to date have shipped 1,026 books. We accept donations from our employees and a few libraries have given us their ‘withdrawals’.

I love books and for me there is no greater pleasure, than to see someone else enjoy the escape from reality that a book provides. I assume that is especially true for our soldiers. If anyone needs an escape from a brutal reality, it most certainly would be a soldier in the middle of a war.

There is a VA Medical Center that needs books, and it’s not difficult or expensive to send a box. The US Postal Service provides free shipping supplies, and there is a special flat rate for the boxes earmarked for the military.

Joining the organization is easy, just go to:

I was asked not to provide the name of the facility, however if you e-mail me at, I will be able to give you the name of the medical center, or if you prefer to send the books to me, I will give you my shipping address. I’ll make sure the center receives them.

For just a little bit of an effort, you can make a difference in a soldier’s life, make it a bit more palatable for them and let them know you care.

Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Chicago North RWA Spring Fling by Margot Justes

The Chicago North RWA Spring Fling is a huge event for our chapter. It is also a tremendous amount of work to put on a conference of this caliber.

I mention this now, because our registration opened up September 1st; but it takes about two years to plan the event-a lot of work is involved.

This year we have a committee of very dedicated members who are doing an amazing job. They lined up bestselling authors and fantastic editors and agents.

The SF Ladies-as I like to call them-signed a great contract with the Marriott, keeping in mind the current difficult economic times.

The publicity, the registration, arranging the panels, picking up our guests at the airport, and all the tiny details that are so important to make the conference a success are being done.

There are a multitude of e-mails, meetings, ideas being tossed back and forth, all of that takes a tremendous amount of time.

I am not a member of the committee, but as chapter president I am privileged to read all the e-mails going back and forth, and I am truly amazed and in awe at the dedication of the SF Ladies.

This promises to be an amazing conference, and if you're a writer, a reader, a fan, you will enjoy the time spent with the CN RWA Spring Fling...Cool City, Hot Romance is our motto.

Here is the link to register :

Hope to see you April 27-28 at the Chicago Marriott NW in Hoffman Estates.

SF Ladies, thank you for an inspiring job.

Till next time,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Life by Margot Justes

One little word-life-holds the very essence of everything we know, we feel and we endure.

There is a song, can't remember the name, but heard it recently sung by Nana Mouskouri, "the pleasures of love last but for a moment, the regrets of love last a lifetime." Very romantic indeed and also very true.

That pronouncement applies to life and how we live it, the regrets we share, the things we wish we'd done and the things we're afraid to do. Yikes, I'm becoming maudlin.

As we age, I think some of us are more prone on taking a chance on life and adventure. Our time becomes shorter, moving forward we realize the future as we know it now, is more limited.

No, I'm not going to take up downhill skiing, tried it once in my youth and hugged every tree and post I slid by; nor will I take up extreme anything, I'm perfectly comfortable on terra firma.

I'm more into introspective growth, to become more patient, travel to places that may not be considered safe, but are filled with history and survival against great odds. I might actually learn something and become more tolerant of others.

My bucket list is growing, there is Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Aqaba, Jordan, passage through the Suez Canal and of course Alexandria, Egypt.

My visit to Alexandria and Cairo this year was cancelled, however Israel is still in place.

I may even take up snorkeling...nope...tried it once, and couldn't see anything, my goggles kept fogging up and I swallowed what seemed to feel like gallons of salty water.

Maybe after all, I'm not the adventurous type.

Till next time,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Fire Museum by Margot Justes

Last Saturday we spent the day without power due to a storm that blanketed the area with darkness. About one o'clock Saturday morning the power went out as did the sump pump and an hour later the back-up pump quit. All is now under control.

The weekend before that I spent time with Dina, and we paid a visit to Indianapolis, Indiana. After breakfast at the Hilton, (which was delicious and highly recommended) we opted for a walking tour of the city.

The heat and humidity notwithstanding, Indy is a great city to see on foot. We hiked to Massachusetts Ave and the highly anticipated 'best chocolate in town' shop, it didn't disappoint and the gelato was a welcome surprise in the stifling heat.

There were a couple of art boutiques, where we browsed and a few galleries which unfortunately were closed on Saturdays.

The highlight of the day was a visit to the Indianapolis Fire Museum, an amazing place that opened in 1996 in a remodeled fire station. The fire station dates back to 1872, the building bought by the fire fighters union has been fully restored and also serves as the Union Headquarters.

Guided tours are offered by retired fire fighters. It is a living and breathing memorial to past, present and future fire fighters. I got a tiny glimpse of life in a fire station, beautifully restored, the building has antique fire equipment on display, and 'the Survive Alive program' which teaches children what to do in case of fire. According to the brochure, about 20,000 children participate in the program annually.

A visit to that particular museum in Indianapolis should not be missed. I came away with a better understanding of the demands of the job. Chatting with our guide, I got the sense of the camaraderie that exists within the community and the willingness of that community to help others. It is not just a job, it is a profound calling to help others, and holds immense pride and shared brotherhood.

Evocative memories of those lost in the line of duty and the continuous support of family members were always within reach. The names were carved in the bricks, wall plaques, or simply the fire fighter telling me about comrades who lost their lives in various wars, fires and 09/11.

It was a deeply moving visit.

Till next time,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Mini Vacation by Margot Justes

I was lucky enough to play tourist both in my own neck of the woods-Chicago and New York.

My daughter received her MBA at Nary Pier last Saturday, so we spent the weekend in Chicago and had a delightful walking adventure. We had breakfast at the Marriott on Michigan Ave. and we were lucky enough to be seated in front of a huge window overlooking the magnificent mile.

We stopped at Bloomingdales and visited the Nespresso boutique and of course had coffee. It was a terrific family weekend that culminated with Solonge's graduation.

Monday I flew to NY for an altogether different adventure. The Marriott Marquis located in Times Square fits the area well, loud and boisterous and doesn't seem to sleep, just like the famed spot.

I tried to see as much as I could and still manage to attend a few functions at the RWA conference.

What I thought would be a wonderful treat turned out to be a very expensive and great disappointment. The high tea at the Plaza hotel fell far short of expectation. The recommended bold tea was anything but, served in a pouch, it was weak and pretty much lacking in flavor. The bread of the finger sandwiches had been cut and allowed to sit, because when served it had that cut and dried prepared hours ago feel to them.

The best part was the volcanic scone eruption. I picked up my scone and tried to gently pull it apart, a scone will easily divide in half if not desiccated with age. This cone erupted, crumbled and tiny specs scattered everywhere. Rather like a crumbly volcanic fall-out.

When I finally was able to get the waiter to ask him for more hot water, I told him this was literally the crumbiest scone I've ever had, his reply was, "believe it or not, it is very fresh." My reply, "Seriously?" He never even asked if I wanted another scone. The price of that delight was $50.00 plus tip. Visit the hotel, the building is gorgeous, but for tea head to the Waldorf Astoria.

If you're in Chicago and want high tea, there are 3 places I recommend, the Russian Tea Time restaurant, it's small and intimate but serves a delightful high tea, the Russian food is good too. The Drake Hotel for the ambiance and an excellent tea service, but the best is the Peninsula hotel because the food is exceptional but service can be inattentive.

Till next time.
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Back to Mykonos by Margot Justes

Yesterday and today I listened to singer Nana Mouskouri and the music brought back many memories of Greece. I will be back in Mykonos in October and this time plan to spend the whole day seeing what I missed last time, because I went to Delos instead.

I thought I'd share a few memories with you. I did post this blog before, but it has been a while. So here it goes, fond memories of Mykonos.
The water lapping the shore, the beaches along the coast primed for tourists, the cafes and restaurants all facing the deep blue water, the caress of a gentle breeze, the radiant sun warming your soul; all is well with the world. At least the world of Mykonos.

I only spent about three very short hours in Mykonos, but they were memorable hours. I walked the length of the beach in the center of town and of course stopped in the obligatory shops, just because you have to stop, it's the touristy thing to do, and never let it be said I'm not a tourist. Nor were the cafes neglected, just in case there were any questions about my coffee addiction, I happen to love Greek coffee, sweet. Very sweet.

It has been said that Mykonos is one of the most beautiful islands of the Cyclades. It's history is vague, but somewhere around 1207 and 1390 the island was ceded to the Ghisi family, there is also mention that at some point in time the inhabitants turned to piracy. By the 18th century the island established an economic presence and today tourists provide a great deal of economic prosperity.

There is more to the rich and vibrant island, but I'm only writing a blog, among the treasures are some 400 churches, the most renowned among them is the Virgin Paraportiani, and of course the famous Windmills, as they beckon the ferries, boats, ships and anything else floating in the water. Up close and personal they are huge and oddly welcoming.

Till next time,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Being a Tourist by Margot Justes

I often wonder how most people tour a big foreign city. How do they prepare? Is everything left to the tour company, with that extra half day on their own? Or do tourists venture out on their own?

I'll be in Rome in four months and have already selected specific sites I do not want to miss. I've visited Rome but it was many, many years ago and I want a refresher course.

I've selected three walking tours, my favorite way to see a city and not get lost. A map is very handy, if you know how to read one, for me that is a useless effort, I can't read maps, and if on my own, North happens to be wherever I'm facing-not a good thing. However, I'm not afraid to ask a stranger for directions, and I do carry a small city map with me, after being told which way to go and where to turn, I can generally find my way.

A few years ago I was in Berlin with my daughter, she was there to do research, and I had the days to myself. The morning I wondered about the city, and of course I got lost but in the process I discovered some wondrous little side streets, stopped for a delicious cup of coffee and wound up at Check Point Charlie, from there it was an easy walk back to the hotel. I had a terrific time.

I digress, back to Rome, I've selected an afternoon walking tour to get familiar with the city and its monuments, one evening walk, sort of a lover's look at romantic Rome, and of course given Rome's age I'm sure there are a few ghosts and goblins scattered around, and I aim to find them with the help of a guide of course.

The must see stuff I do first and I leave myself some breathing space for the unexpected treasures, a cafe, a sit down on the Spanish Steps, a small neighborhood church, an art gallery, all those delicious incidental discoveries that are so memorable.

Till next time.
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Boutique Hotel or Chain by Margot Justes

When travelling do you choose the all familiar feeling of a well known hotel chain, or go with something a bit different, an unknown?

In the US, I stay with the familiar, it's home and I want that familiarity in the hotel. I want my expectations to be met. I'm not one for bed & breakfast type of places, I prefer the anonymity of the hotel. I once stayed in a bed & breakfast, and once was enough. I don't find them romantic, I find them intrusive but that is my personal preference. At home, give me a good well known hotel any day of the week.

That being said, in Europe, my preferences change, I choose the boutique hotels, the unknown names. I find them charming, sometimes worn with age, some sporting facelifts, but the essence is the same, they reflect the romance and adventure of the city they live in.

Hotel Lutetia in Paris is one such place, Art Deco meets the Belle Époque, it's at the center of Paris, easy access to most sites and a 40 minute walk to the Rodin Museum.

The Royal Crescent in Bath, England is another such delight. It is part of a small chain of the Von Essen Hotels, each one is unique, old architecturally significant buildings and castles have been converted to magnificent hotels.

Take a chance and look for the unique, not the familiar. Prices vary based on the season, go off season-like airfares, hotels are discounted.

In many cases if you travel to and plan on spending a few days in a major city, you can book a vacation through the airlines. There are some lovely prices included in the hotel and air package, even half day tours to get you acquainted with the city. My favorite way of finding a new hotel is simply to Google hotels in a specific city and do a bit of research on line.

Local transportation is easy and you do not have to speak the language to get around, but learn a few words of the local language, and be careful and aware of your surroundings. Be a vigilant tourist, whether it's at home or anywhere else in the world.

I don't like to take tours ala the 'If this is Tuesday it must be Belgium' premise. (Funny movie by the way.) If I'm going to Paris, London Rome, Berlin, Hong Kong or Venice, any major city, I stay put a few days to get to know the city and its pulse.

Check prices on-line sites like Expedia, (not a big fan) but don't forget to deal directly with the hotel. I e-mailed the Crescent hotel in Bath and got a fantastic price, they had a special off season rate that was unbeatable. Now, I get e-mails from the Von Essen hotels notifying me of other deals. They have a terrific medieval castle in Edinburgh, Scotland I plan to visit soon. Falconry and archery anyone? Never tried either one, but certainly plan to do so in the very near future.

Till next time.
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Air Travel by Margot Justes

Booking air fares is a nightmare, not only do prices change seemingly minute by minute but keeping track of timetables, and how many stops it will take to reach your destination adds to the frustration.

First you have to decide if you're flying economy, packed and squeezed like the proverbial sardine in a tin can, your choices of comfort are no-existent. It is assuredly less expensive to fly economy, and if you select off season travel it could be downright cheap to cross the pond. (aka the Atlantic) You may feel like a pretzel by the time you deplane, but you will be on terra firma in a new and wondrous place. That is how I look upon travel.

There are deals to be had by contacting the airlines, for instance Lufthansa notifies me anytime they have a special. I also check the vacation specials that include hotel and airfare packages.

In early spring and fall prices drop, tourists for the most part have gone home, and you can visit at leisure without fighting the crowds, and saving money at the same time.

This spring there were offers to Ireland for less than five hundred dollars round trip, not a bad deal.

One word of advice, if you're cruising, do not fly on the same day you board the ship, if there are any delays, the ship will leave without you.

If you can afford business class travel, it's not necessary to pay the full price, unless you really feel you have to overpay. Your travel agent should be able to check with consolidators to get the best business rate.

Lufthansa (I like to fly Lufthansa-great service and good prices) offers business travel deals this summer , the high season for travel. You have to book and fly by a certain time, but the price is fantastic, half of the going rate. The business fares to some cities in Europe are going for less than two thousand dollars, economy is going for about six hundred.

It takes the patience of a saint to get everything booked, confirmed and priced to your satisfaction, but it can be done. Look at the planning as part of the excitement and anticipation of your trip, and once everything is all set, you'll feel like a savvy traveler.

Next week boutique hotels or chains?

Till next time.
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Travel by Margot Justes

The price of travel is relative, for me I'd give up a lot to travel, with the exception of coffee and dark chocolate. In that order.

That being said, don't automatically assume that going to Europe or taking a cruise is impossible. A twelve day cruise from Rome going to Greek and Turkish Islands and Israel is expensive. As I said it's relative, but it can be had for $800 plus gratuities and tax, that will run about $1,000 total per person. Remember that it includes all the food you could ever wish for and all your entertainment.

That price is for an inside cabin, but in reality how much time will you spend in your cabin? Not much.

I love the early morning twilight as you come into port, all the lights flickering a warm welcome. I'm on deck to greet the dawn, the coffee is set-up and waiting for me.

By the second day, the waiter already knows there is an early riser who likes skim milk with her coffee and it's there for me. The skim milk offsets the chocolate calories, at least in my mind. The only time you spend in the cabin is when you're sleeping or changing clothes, other than showering of course.

For me, the days at sea are spent, reading, swimming, writing, and walking; there are walking paths set-up on the top deck, so it's just you, the water, a gentle sometimes not so gentle breeze. I prefer quiet contemplation.

For those sea going travelers who want to be continuously entertained, there are dancing lessons, art sales, the full gamut to make sure you're not bored.

When booking a cruise, you make a deposit and the final payment is usually due 60 to 90 days before departure. Up to the time of the final payment, you should watch the prices and if you see your cruise is less expensive, get in touch with your travel agent or the cruise line and you get the applicable less expensive price. I check my cruise price twice a day, morning and evening-they change like air fares.

Have I convinced you yet, that it's a possibility?

Next week, I'll cover the airfare.

Till next time.
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Amazing Archaeology by Margot Justes

The search is on for the remains of the Mona Lisa, researchers have localized the area where the remains of La Giaconda have rested for centuries. And the dig is on, literally.

It took archaeologists about two weeks to find the crypt in a deserted convent; they used ground penetrating radar, the same type of radar used for military purposes, only this time it was art research-pure and simple.

The hunt is on for Lisa Gherardini Del Giacondo, she is believed to have been the model for the Mona Lisa. The crypt was located underground in the St. Ursula convent in Florence. When they removed about a foot of concrete they found ancient bricks that were 35 inches wide, along with two crypts they found various pieces of pottery and old bones. The crypts are as yet untouched, that will take another few days.

The archaeologist believe that one of the tombs contains the remains of La Giaconda, as she is called in Italy. That in itself is remarkable, but there is more, they will compare the DNA with that of her children and hopefully be able to reconstruct her face and match Leonardo's painting.

The centuries old mystery of who was the Mona Lisa may soon be solved. All the theories and intellectual debate that continued for ages may soon stop, but is the identity of the model going to dilute and diminish the enigma that is La Giaconda? Or will it add more mystique and perpetuate the magic of Leonardo's masterpiece?

Till next time.
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Taking the Plunge by Margot Justes

I'm ready to take the plunge and take my novella A Fire Within the Kindle route.
I thought I'd share the beginning, in more ways than one; it is the beginning of a new experience for me and the beginning of A Fire Within.

"He burned. A fire within consumed him. He burned for his lost love.
He burned for vengeance. He burned with hatred.
Rebecca Standish was dreaming. She had to be, but the blaring ringing did not relent. She tossed restlessly in her bed, plagued by a recurring nightmare. Like always, it began with the dissonant ringing of the telephone demanding her attention. In the past the dreams would quickly morph into the hiss and crackle of flames. This time the noise was incessant and did not let up.

Drifting slowly towards consciousness, she turned on her side and put a pillow over her face. Still, the clanging continued. She jerked upright in bed and froze. Not again. Please not again. She reached for the phone waiting for doom.

“Miss Standish.” She heard a curt voice and listened with growing dread as a monotone voice spoke her name. Her alarm clock twinkled the witching hour in big red numbers. Midnight. She switched on the nightstand light, and mentally prepared herself.

“Yes.” she whispered “What happened? Is it a fire?” Afraid to hear the response, she tightened her hold on the phone. Her knuckles turned white from the effort and she forced herself to relax. Her gallery burned down once before. Facing that possibility again absolutely defeated her resolve. I can’t go through this again. Please God, don't let it be a fire.

“No, no fire but there is an emergency. The front window in your gallery was broken. The crash sounded the alarm. The police are on their way.”

“So am I. Thank you.” She hung up and covered her face with her hands. What now?
She threw a long sweater coat over her shoulders, and went downstairs to wait for a cab. Not a tall woman, five six in bare feet, Rebecca always wore heels that added to her height. She had a woman's body with curves in all the right places, and hair as black as night with eyes to match. She was a striking, self-assured woman who at the moment felt anything but; her gallery was in trouble once again, at least this time it wasn't engulfed in flames."

Till next time.
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Mysteries of the Art World by Margot Justes

A potential Leonardo da Vinci sketch had been unearthed, more precisely an art historian thought that it was "absolutely Leonardesque" but that it was probably drawn by one of da Vinci's students.

An exam showed that the sketch was done closer to 1473-yes they could narrow it down to the year-amazing isn't it-what science can do? At any rate, Leonardo da Vinci did not have any apprentices or students until the late 1470's. That leaves the work as that of the master himself, or does it?

The mystery continues, the historian is convinced that he has the first portrait drawing the master did.

Now, the fun begins, the research, the absolute proof-that yes the sketch was done by Leonardo da Vinci. That would be lovely, but it is a long road to the absolute.

The paper is tested to check the properties and identify them as belonging to the era, they will test the chalk and pencil for the same reason. They were able to tell that both hands were used in that particular sketch, and it is known that da Vinci was reputed to be left-handed, but at the early start of his career he used both hands.

Would you believe that a reconstructed da Vinci fingerprint exists? It does. Another step that brings us closer to the ongoing search for knowledge about the great master.

Paper was expensive during the era and often re-used, and they found another drawing of an animal underneath the new sketch. Leonardo was known to draw animal figures, and the style matched.

Much is known about da Vinci, much can be found using modern day science techniques to give us a rare glimpse into the life and work of Leonardo da Vinci.

There are art detectives who attempt to solve the mysteries of newly found masterpieces like the first portrait sketch attributed to da Vinci.

There is enough proof that the piece is probably the master's, but the final absolute is still a work in progress.

Till next time.
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Change in Attitude by Margot Justes

I'm going through a change-no, not that change-a change in attitude.

I'm cleaning house, getting rid of stuff I no longer need or use, and Amvets is a frequent visitor. In the process I'm simplifying my life.

I no longer find kitchen utensils enticing, cookbooks no longer viable, because all I do is look at the recipes and all the pretty pictures, and say hmm, that looks delicious and that's it,

I'm done with said cookbook.

Shoes are still a I went chocolate shopping for my daughter for Easter, came home with no chocolate but bought a sexy pair of shoes. Somethings you just can't give up. I still need to get that chocolate.

But I noticed something else too, things are a whole lot less important than they used to be. I put clean sheets on the bed and realized that the fitted sheet was on the bed inside out. In the 'old' days I would have re-made the bed, now I just mumbled to myself -the sheets are clean, we're good.

It's comforting to go with the flow, there are fewer hassles and as long as I have the ability to learn and appreciate new things, and in the process challenge myself...that indeed is excellent.

Till next time,
Margot Justes

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Who Was the Mona Lisa by Margot Justes

Suspense and mystique in the art world is alive and well, thanks to new details about the potential identity of the mysterious model, who famously became the Mona Lisa.

The dig is on-literally- to discover the identity of the Mona Lisa. In Florence, Italian scientists will dig up the bones, using modern science methodology that hopefully will help identify the lady.

The mystery shrouding the identity of the small portrait, has had scholars and writers debating the possibilities for centuries.

Myths have long claimed that Lisa Gherardini, the wife of wealthy silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo, posed for the portrait. Hence the Italian name of the masterpiece, La Giaconda.

According to the EarthLink article, the marvels of modern science ala CSI will play a major part in the research. The dig will center at the Convent of St. Ursula in Florence, Italy. The merchant had a relationship with the convent, and it is said his wife is buried there.

Ground-penetrating radar will be used to locate the tomb, and if one is discovered, they will try to match the bones and the age of the skeleton, since it is known that she died in her sixties.

If skeletal remains can be identified, then the next process will be carbon dating and DNA extraction to see if it is a match to her children, some of whom were buried in the vicinity.

If skull fragments are found and are usable, there is a possibility of facial reconstruction.

That would certainly prove she was the model. Or would it?

Silvano Vinceti, art historian and project leader claims to have found "symbols" within the portrait that suggest it could have been a longtime male companion of Leonardo's who was the "main influence for the Mona Lisa."

Dan Brown found "symbols" within La Giaconda as well, and had a terrific unbelievable run as a bestselling author.

What wonderful sources of suspense and intrigue can be found in the art world...the possibilities are endless.

Till next time,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Goals by Margot Justes

Goals are set and meant to be accomplished, at least that is my understanding. I looked up the word in the dictionary. A goal is 'the result or achievement toward which effort is directed'

Simple enough, set the goal and achieve it-assuming the goal is realistic, it is all well and good, until life intervenes and set goals go out the window faster than hot air in winter.

Last week, I set goals to edit 50 pages of Blood Art, send out 3 query letters, and make a tiny dent in A Hotel in Venice. Not exceptionally difficult tasks and easily accomplished, or so I thought.

I did none of those things, and more to the point I have no idea where the time went.

One reason, I thought might because I'm on the CN RWA board, I get so many more e-mails, but then so do the other board members, and I won't even mention the Spring Fling committee, who are working incredibly long hours so that we can have a terrific 2012 conference. Well, maybe I will mention them after all, their efforts are amazing.

So where did the time go? I have no idea, but I thought about the catastrophe and incredible destruction in Japan, how many lives were lost? Will be lost, how many sacrifices will be made to secure the safety of the Japanese people? How many people will work in certain death to make sure that happens? How dare I complain I didn't meet a few writing goals.

That on-going tragedy in Japan really put things in perspective. Just what am I complaining about? I feel blessed and grateful for what I have.

Till next time.
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Traveling by Margot Justes

Celebrity Cruises altered the itinerary for my cruise in October. Alexandria, Egypt was cancelled. I suspect not because of the peaceful overthrow of the government, but the cancellation occurred after the religious conflict between Christians and Muslims broke out.

No one from the cruise line announced that was the reason, it's my own supposition about the timing of the cancellation, and of course there is the unrest in the Middle East as a whole.

To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. The Pyramids are still on my bucket list. The closest I've come is reading Elizabeth Peters' books and that just made the desire that much greater. Her descriptions are so vivid that you're right there along with Amelia Peabody and her celebrated spouse Emerson solving a mystery, amidst the archeological digs.

I cancelled the Celebrity cruise and went back to my old stand-by Royal Caribbean. Ashdod (Jerusalem) and Haifa, Israel are still part of the itinerary but now I'll also visit Kusadasi, Turkey, as well as Rhodes and Crete, Greece.

Egypt has been postponed until 2012. I sincerely hope that a solid democratic government will flourish, since that is what the general populace wanted when they peacefully toppled the old regime.

One can only hope for a peaceful resolution however tenuous the thread.

Till next time.
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Another Art Theft by Margot Justes

A Rodin sculpture was creatively acquired, in other words stolen, from the Israel Museum, now mind you this was bronze; heavy stuff, that bronze.

Yet, it was removed from the premises, granted this was not a huge piece by Rodin, the estimated weight was about 140 pounds and it was approximately 50 lbs but hardly something you can put in your pocket or under your clothes and walk out without someone noticing an odd appendage lurking about on your person.

How does a statue weighing 140 pounds disappear from a museum? It appears the Israel Museum was undergoing substantial renovations and probably sometime during the construction the statue disappeared. Pooh, it was moved and apparently kept on moving.

Some art experts fear that it might be sold for scrap. What a horrendous thought, an irreplaceable work of art, sculpted by a master and cast in bronze would be sold for scrap.
I hope the piece found a loving home somewhere, that is a much better alternative than reducing a glorious piece to scrap.

The only reason I say it was cast in bronze is purely for clarification, because I have been asked how difficult is it to sculpt bronze? Very difficult. In fact it is impossible. Bronze is always cast from the molding of the original work of art.

Till next time.
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Social Networks by Margot Justes

I will be the first to admit the social networks are a mystery to me.

They are the way to get your name out there, wherever out there happens to be. That magical special entity that will get your book noticed, name recognition established, word of mouth will travel in that magical land of space and suddenly you've gone viral. Sort of like a virus but in a good way.

Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter are the primary sources of sharing quick bits of your life, activities, and whatever else you want to share with the world at large.

I belong to all three, it is time consuming but rewarding, not in the magic of going viral and suddenly becoming a best seller, but in building a community, meeting some terrific and interesting people. You pop in for a visit, say hello and pop out again and in the process you develop relationships.

It takes time, but I've noticed I'm getting more comments on FB, more friends, more people following me on Twitter, my blog readership is steadily growing and Amazon is showing movement in sales. Progress is slow but consistent, and in the process I'm learning how to become more active, more social and that is not a bad thing.

In part my involvement in the social networks allowed me to grow, and become more open to sharing details of my life I never would have dreamed I'd ever do.

Next is tackling query letters and pestering agents. Sounds like fun

Till next time,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Revolution by Margot Justes

Recently we witnessed a revolution in Egypt, what made it historically so remarkable is that it was relatively bloodless.

We watched it happen right in front of our eyes; the assembly of the masses in Tahrir Square, the essential communication role the social networks played in the organization of the revolt, and the ingenuity of the masses when that network was shut down.

It was fundamentally a demand for freedom and a right to be heard, and heard they were.

The government stepped down, the military took over and the people are awaiting their democratic right to vote and select new leadership. It almost sounds too simplistic, the events unfolded in a public square in Cairo.

I heard someone say that it was a non-event, because little blood was spilled, the military didn't fire on its own people and the leadership did step down.

A non-event? It was a huge event. The power of the people brought down a government.

The power of the people demanded democracy, and they were willing to take that unknown step forward and demand it. It certainly was a gargantuan event.

I found it absolutely engrossing, watching the events unfold, the willingness of the Egyptian people to stand firm and fight for what they believed. That was history in the making.

We're so used to seeing blood and gore everywhere, that when we see a remarkable event without bodies strewn everywhere, some of us think it's not important. Why is that?

Till next time,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Roman Ruins in Rome by Margot Justes

Isn't alliteration wonderful.

According to an article written in Yahoo News, the third-century Roman sculptures were found in Rome. While excavating a public site, the archeologists discovered six marble statues. The five heads were found in an ancient fountain in what was a lavish Roman villa.

The belief is that the villa belonged to a high-ranking official to the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus, dating back to 193-211 A.D.

I find it amazing that almost two thousand years later give or take a century or two, we're still finding such incredible treasures.

What makes this find so wonderful, other than the busts of course, is that the dig was financed by private entrepreneurs.

I'm sure more information will become available as the sculptures are restored and more information is gained from the archaeological site.

If I'm lucky and the site is open to the public, I hope to pay a visit in October.

Till next time,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Mont St-Michel by Margot Justes

Along with Susan Miura, I'm working on A Taste of France, and one of the places we'll discuss is Mont St-Michel on the Normandy Coast, one of the wonders of the world. To say it is magnificent would be an understatement, the tiny rocky tidal island has been designated a World Heritage Site in 1979, and rightfully so.

I visited Mont St-Michel many years ago but the memory is still vivid, the effort to haul the huge rocks using pulleys and heavy rope to built the houses, church, and the imposing abbey must have been astounding. My imagination soared at the thought of the unbelievable accomplishments in such a harsh and isolated environment, the only way out during high tide was by boat.

A culture already existed by the time the Romans left in 460 AD, the history is rich, varied, and surprising, during the French Revolution the island was used as a prison.
If memory serves, the Scarlet Pimpernel was imprisoned there. If you're looking for a romantic historical adventurous read, The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy is perfect. My copy is yellowed with age, and I won't part with it.

From afar St-Michel looks like a hunk of rock, but as you get closer, you begin to see the exquisitely carved mystical work of art, man-made sheer stunning beauty, from the cloister, to the church and abbey along with the homes where people lived and everything in between. The crowning glory sits at the top, the Medieval Benedictine Abbey, whose spires are visible for miles.

The high tide that comes in fast and furious, and has been described by Victor Hugo as "a la vitesse d'un cheval au galop" roughly translated, "faster than a galloping horse". A must see treasure.

Working on The Taste of France, made me realize, it's time to re-visit.

Till next time,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, January 8, 2011

New Year Resolutions by Margot Justes

With the new year come the resolutions, I've made mine and so far stuck to the no sugar resolve, but let's face it, it's only been a week. So far so good.
One other resolution I've made is to finish a non fiction novel about my stay in South Africa. I started writing it about two years ago, came up with a terrific title, Memories of a Country Long Ago, and somehow I put it aside and got involved in other projects, and this one just slipped away.

I recently came across the measly few pages and decided it is a worthwhile project , and now I have another challenge, describing the stunning country of South Africa, with the gorgeous topography, the red burning sun, the burnished clay under your feet, the animals that roam relatively free in their natural habitats, the vast cultural differences and the curse of apartheid.

There is so much to tell. Below is the beginning of my tale. I haven't really looked at, so not even first edits were done, but I thought I'd share with you the start of an adventure for me, something brand new and yes-terrifying-nonfiction.

"They say that once you've been to Africa, it gets in your blood and stays. I can say with certainty that it does.
I can vouch for the veracity of that statement. I visited South Africa many years ago.

To this day, I still feel the arid, red clay underneath my feet, the dust, the magnificence and incredible natural beauty of the country. It takes possession of your very soul. I cannot speak for the African continent as a whole, only to a small Southernmost tip of it, namely South Africa,

It is indeed with profound angst that I put words on paper. I write romantic mysteries, yet the idea has been floating around in my head, much like dialog and ideas for the fiction stories I write.

This will be a romance, unlike most others, a romance with a country I lived in all too briefly, yet have never forgotten. A country that has touched me, moved me and taught me to appreciate what I have. These are memories that are still with me, never to be forgotten. Like the country itself."

Till next time,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris