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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

Monday, July 4, 2016

Easy Does It by Margot Justes

An easy way to travel-that has been my mantra now for many years. Air travel is not for the weak of heart, it has become at best unpleasant. I have decided that unless  there is a need to cross the pond, as in the Atlantic, or Pacific for that matter, or cross country, day trips by car will suit me just fine.

Since my retirement from my paying job, that is what has been done. My bucket list has grown immeasurably since I moved, and I keep adding to it. In the Midwest, everything seemed so far away, now there is so much within an easy six or ten hour drive.

In the meantime I have seen quite a bit more of this country since I moved, and hopefully will see a lot more.

Europe still calls to me, as do other parts of the world, and happily my horizons have expanded. Next year, if things go well, there is a plan forming to cruise to Hawaii and the South Pacific. I have never been to that part of the world, and the cruise will make it rather easy.

Cruising  works for me, I pack and unpack once, I see as much as time will allow, and then sail leisurely to the next port. All cares are swept away.

The flight to Los Angeles will be reasonably short, in this case the drive is not practical.  I’m excited about the possibility of seeing another part of the world that is totally foreign to me. I’ll post updates on my progress.

In the meantime, I’ll share a few pictures of some of my favorite places-perfect for a summer escape, mountains in Asheville, NC and an ocean breeze from Hilton Head, SC.

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

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Rome by Margot Justes Redux

I’m heading back to Rome in October, and thought I’d share some impressions of a previous trip in 2014.

Rome has one of the biggest cruise ports in Europe, and that suits me quite well. It is one of those ancient cities that will take more than one visit to see, and many of the cruises start in Rome. I try to stay for two or three days before boarding the ship. You don’t want to arrive on the same day, especially if it’s an overseas destination, that is much too risky, and Rome is always well worth the extra time. There are many hotels that fit all budgets.

Even if you spend a whole day in the Vatican alone, it is not enough, and would also prove quite exhausting, if nothing else the huge crowds would do you in. They say about twenty five to thirty thousand people visit the Vatican daily. The best I can do is five or six hours at a time.

The treasures housed within that community are unbelievable, it is a Mecca for art lovers. Michelangelo and the Pieta, and the Sistine Chapel are sites that once seen will never be forgotten, and must be seen again if at all possible.  The Chapel, a rectangular room in the basement is all Michelangelo, it is bare of furnishings. It is a place to pay homage to a magnificent artist and his immeasurable artistry. It will leave you breathless.

I have done independent tours to the big sites, but now I book a tour to the Vatican and the other special sites because of crowds, it is easier and faster to get in. You don’t wait in the long lines, and at my age it is well worth it.

For this upcoming trip I booked two tours through Viator; Vatican Walking Tour- this tour includes the Sistene Chapel, Raphael’s Rooms and of course St. Peter’s; after the tour I can wonder around on my own. The other tour I booked through them is the Ancient Rome and Colosseum Walking Tour.

I’m going with my grandchildren, and it’s their first visit to Europe-I wanted to make sure they would get a decent historical introduction to this magnificent city.

If the stop is part of the cruise, I book through the cruise line, for one excellent reason, if there is a delay, they will wait for you. It has happened where the bus was delayed for about an hour. There was a general announcement about the delay, and we departed once the bus returned to port. That is not the case if you book through an outside agency. For me, it is not worth the extra stress to make sure I’ll be back on time, especially true if the visiting site is a bit of a distance from the port....but I digress.

Ancient Rome offers the Forum, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, these are all places that must be seen, the age and history will astound. There is also the lively Rome, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, so tourist packed that you have to wait, and weave your way to get up close and personal. The outdoor restaurants, the entertainment at said places, where you’ll get a troubadour serenading you, and it’s best to have some change ready for a tip. Just walking the old streets is a delight.

Then of course there are the espresso stops, I prefer to linger, the Italians prefer to stand and gulp theirs. It is less expensive to stand and drink your coffee, if you sit down there is a charge for that privilege. However by the time I need a coffee break, I also need a sit-down break to recharge.

I try and avoid the height of the tourist season, it is far more expensive, and overcrowded and prefer to go early Spring or late Fall. Sometimes as in this trip, the timing depended upon the kiddies and their activities. Rome is a walking city, cobblestones notwithstanding, comfortable shoes are de rigueur.

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

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Glorious Venice by Margot Justes

Venice has captured my heart. Since I'm obsessing almost daily about Venice, I need to plan a trip that will take me back to that magical place. Hopefully next year. The ultimate dream would be to do a signing for A Hotel in Venice. A girl can dream...
It is an incredible place steeped in magic and evening shadows. If you'd like to read more about my impressions of Venice, I posted an article on the travel page on my website.

Margot Justes
A Hotel in Venice
A Hotel in Bath
A Hotel in Paris

Monday, March 28, 2016

Pictures from Favorite Places by Margot Justes

I'm going to share a few random pictures of my favorite places.

 Montserrat, Spain
Valletta, Malta
 Montserrat, Spain
 Bath, England
Bath, England
Barcelona, Spain

Valletta, Malta

And one for fun-watching the pilot arrive to board cruise ship.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Agadir, Morocoo by Margot Justes

The port of Agadir was my first visit to North Africa. Our tour included a souk visit, which is a typical market/bazaar, tented and patched with whatever was handy, you could see imagination at work everywhere you turned.

The souk we visited was positively huge, there was no time to stop and shop, our guide was rather persistent that we stay together, and he just marched on, one turn after another in a wondrous maze. I was grateful, I tend to wander off and get lost; they’d probably still be looking for me today, but I was smart enough to stick to the guide like the proverbial glue.

Alley upon alley of curved and narrow paths, most were dirt, others had tile, cracked plaster, still others pieces of bricks, well worn rugs, all uneven, and all led to infinity. It seemed never ending. Anything was for sale from cheese to meat to clothes, massive selections of olives, live poultry and everything in between.

We walked through town for a little bit, visited the top of the hill, or mountain as the guide indicated, where in 1960 at almost midnight a volcanic eruption killed 20,000 people. The place remains untouched, neglected  with few dry plans marking some graveyards. A sad reminder of a horrific loss. Along the path coming down the hill, vendors lined up their good on either side of the street, and once again touristy trinkets were for sale, most were imports from China.

After the somber reminder of the loss of those poor souls, a welcome break called the Fantasia Show was held in a tent and garden, where galloping horses and riders with guns drawn came to a sudden stop and fired into the air, even a snake charmer was thrown in for good measure. There were souvenirs to buy, and one was expected to haggle. Even patient camels were waiting for tourists to ride them-the awkward creatures are actually quite soulful, graceful and limber.

In the evening I took another tour, back to the tent lined with red carpets and the same garden. This tour included a traditional dinner in the tent and entertainment in the garden.  I’m sure there were Arabian Knights lurking in a corner somewhere…well I am a romance writer after all.

More of the traditional Arabian Nights riders, guns drawn as they galloped across the lawn, fired their guns, and majestically rode back. Blanks were used but the noise was enough to wake the dead. It was a delightful evening, filled with local customs and traditions.

After the show we had a typical Moroccan dinner of a soup made with chick peas and local spices, a chicken with vegetables slowly cooked in a tagine, and then couscous with roasted vegetables and lamb, and for the finale a huge bowl of fresh fruit. I love couscous and the preparation was outstanding.

A belly dancer provided the after dinner entertainment. By the time I was back on the ship, I really did think about the magic and romance of the Arabian Nights, moonlight and mysterious strangers.

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