Yearly Archives: 2012

A castle, a conspiracy, and a love story

Here’s the thing about Tuscany: it’s so freaking beautiful and historic. And tasty. Wine, bread, olives, olive oil. I’m sure it’s beautiful… especially in spring/summer/fall. Winter is pretty awesome too.

After spending some time taking in some winter sports with the best athletes on the planet and searching for my soul against the tiny coastal villages nestled against the Mediterranean, it was time to get down of discovering what Italy is known for:  good food, good wine, and good art.

A Castle

But first a side trip to back in time.  Enter Trebbio Castle, built in 1184!  1184.  That was the dark ages for crying out loud.  Anyway back to the story…

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The castle was built in 1184 by the Pazzi Family, [Italian language lesson=‘pazzi’ means crazy]. In fact, the family was pretty crazy to even attempt such a thing, but these were different times.  Ever hear of the Medicis–you know the family that rules these parts back then? The Pazzis and Medicis were rivals.  Somewhere deep in the castle [IDK if this part is true, but it sounds good] Francesco and Salviati Pazzi, with the help of Pope Sixtus IV and his newphew Girolamo Riario concocted an plan against the Medicis. The Pope was upset that the Medici’s were attempting to thwart his Papal power over the North-central Romagna region. And if you’re wondering whether it was successful or not, just check to see whose balls are all over Florence… a little hint, they’re not the Pazzis.

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Here’s the thing about a time before photography or the internet.  You can use your imagination to picture how things happened.  It was April 26, 1478.  Easter morning.  The most sacred of sacred mornings.  It was beautiful–spring in full bloom–warm even.   All the Florentines were in the Duomo for High Mass.  The Pazzis snuck in to the Duomo and managed to get a seat near the Medicis.  Catholics being catholics the homily was probably eerily similar to Easter homilies today.  I like to think it happened right as the priest was offering communion to the Medicis. The Pazzis managed to fatally stab one of the Medici brothers, Giuliano, but Lorenzo ‘The Magnificent’ managed to escape. The Florentines side with the Medicis and killed the present Pazzis on the spot.  And all sins were immediately forgiven…

You might be wondering what happened to the castle after the demise of the Pazzis; it fell to disrepair. A caretaker lived there for 15 years [contractually], but as soon as he was able, he skedaddled off with a young missy in tow.

The love story

Fast forward 500 years or so…A young Austrian girl come to Italy to learn Italian.  Whilst on the train, she meets the the man who would become her husband.  They married and settled in Milan.  Never-mind the 40 year age difference [I’m all about the older men, but I don’t think I could do 40 years older].  She was 19; he was 59.  Six years of marriage = 5 children.

One day he came to her and said “A few years ago, I was a lonely man, so to thank you for all that you have given me, I bought you castle in Tuscany with over 800 acres.’  [Sidenote:  If ever a man wanted to buy me a castle in Tuscany, I’d let him].  I’m sure he didn’t quite expect the turn of events that set the castle’s restoration in motion.  You see, there’s no heat in that castle; I’m sure he expected that the Missus would only want to live in the castle in the summer, but oh no–give a girl a castle, she’ll want to live there for life.
SONY DSC

And so they did.  Restorations began in 1968. They started the wine and olive oil production. The castle is now in the hands of their daughter, Anna Baj Macario, who took over the estate with her husband Stefano Casadei, who is the winemaker. They live full time in the castle, which still doesn’t have heating, and is really quite cold, especially in February.

It takes over 100,000 euros a year to maintain this place so in addition to making wine and olive oil, they give tours, offer cooking classes, have apartments for rent and host events like weddings at the castle.

The moral of this story:  Life can start at any age usually when you least expect it. [Or how it applies to me; don’t give up on life just yet].

And a bonus:  A recipe for homemade pasta

Ingredients: EGGS ( 1 egg per person), FLOUR (*100 grams per person), EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL (1 teaspoon), SALT

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On a wooden board, put the flour in the shape of a volcano, and the eggs in the middle. Add the extra virgin olive oil and some salt. With a fork, start mixing the eggs, taking the flour from the side, little by little or it will result lumpy.

Then, start mixing the dough with the hands. Don’t work it too much, because the pasta must result porous, in order to better absorb the sauce.

Then, when the dough is homogeneous, leave it to rest for at least half an hour.

Then, roll out the dough: firstly by hand, after with the rolling pin. Put a handful of flour on the dough in order to roll it out better, or it will stick to your hand/to the rolling pin. Turn the dough once in a while in order to give it a round and not oval shape. When the dough is very flat (*1-2 mm), leave it again to rest half an hour.

Then, fold the dough. Now you can cut the dough to prepare the shape of the pasta that you prefer: tagliatelle are wide stripes, tagliolini are narrow stripes.

Open the stripes, and let them dry.

Handmade Tagliatelle with “Sausage” Sauce:

Put some onion, celery, thyme, and rosemary in a pan with extra virgin olive oil. Then add fresh sausage: when the meat gets a nice brown color, add peeled tomatoes. Let it boil for about 1 hour and 30 min.

Handmade Tagliolini with Vegetarian Sauce:

Put some shallot (kind of onion) and celery in a pan with extra virgin olive oil. Add grated carrots and zucchini, some thyme and some fresh basil. Add some fresh cream, and chili (if you’d like).

*Metric measurement  because, you know, Italy ain’t America.

Gaining perspective on Cinque Terre paths

Most of last year sucked. Like straight up sucked. Yes, I graduated from school and got an amazing job, but other than that 2005 was shitty. Watching my father die, seeing my boyfriend tool around town with some floozy, having a fling with my boss, and moving to a new state–none of those things made me happy. I decided early on that 2006 was going to be a much better year. I’m going to explore my new surroundings, take real vacations, go on actual dates with appropriate people, make new friends…you know all that stuff that is supposed to make life more fulfilling.

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Real vacation #1–hanging out in Itlay.

One of the things that always helps me to see things clearly is getting back to nature… getting outside and communing with the trees if you will. After being surrounding with throngs of people at the Olympics, I needed some alone time… Enter Cinque Terre, a coastal area of five little villages. This part of Italy is usually DEAD in the winter, but courtesy of the Games, some areas have opened up, providing a much needed escape from the Alps. Don’t get me wrong, mountains are awesome. The Alps are amazing, but I’d take a cold, sunny day on the coast over the snowy mountains any day.

One of the main draws to Cinque Terre aside from its location is the interconnect hiking paths. Some of them are easy, more like leisurely strolls through the woods.  Other trails are actual hiking trails complete with mountains and steep climbs.

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A lot of people just hike the leisurely trail;  I opted to hike the entire network of trails. Hiking the entire length of the trail took about  8 hours or so. I went at an easy pace; it was bright and sunny except for the early morning fog, and temperatures were awesome for February. I had a lot of shit to sort out in my head. So I walked. And walked. And walked some more. Those paths are amazing. And snapped photos [2016 Michelle here: with FILM]

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I took the train back to my room after hiking all day and indulged in a massive plate of pasta, all the bread I could get my hands on, and a carafe or two of the most wonderful red wine ever. Of course I say that every day… today’s wine was the best ever… today’s pasta was the best ever… today’s gelato was better than yesterday’s gelato. But the hike… the hike was amazing. The towns are pretty cute too.

Also I am amazed at how green everything is.  You’d never know it was February.
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Fresh clementines rock.

The Lover’s Walk

2016 Michelle here. Here I sit… older and wiser and all. 2005 was a particularly low spot in my life, and going in Italy in 2006, while not the best idea I’ve ever head, was really what jump-started my love of travel.  And also here I sit, older and wiser and all, dating a special dude.  One day I may even commit  to something more serious… like a love lock.

As a single, late-20-something suffering 3! break-ups in the last year, I’m pretty cynical about love these days, and not even being in the undisputed romance capital of the world is changing that. In the last 12 months I’ve caught a boyfriend with another person, had a few months’ long fling, and returned– against better judgment– to hook up with a previous partner. If my judgment is any indication of how my life is going to go, I should run, not walk away from any man that approaches, but me being me, hope springs eternal.

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The Lover’s Walk is one of the easiest trails in the Cinque Terre. It’s just over a mile, flat, and connects Riomaggiore with Manarola. It could be the perfect trail to stroll with a lover… not very private if you catch my drift, but wide enough for two people, and the views are amazing.

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Like nearly everything, there’s a story that goes along with the trail.

Built between 1926 and 1928, the Via dell’Amore was born out of necessity and not at all with love in mind. As workers blasted through the rock in order to upgrade the railway line, they found it necessary to build a gunpowder warehouse safely away from the two towns. They created a pathway from both villages that lead to a central storage area. After the railway was finished, locals rallied to reinforce the pathway, cover part of it, and keep it open as a second link between the two very isolated villages.

The story goes that, apart from aiding in commercial dealings, the new pathway also made it easier for young men and women from Riomaggiore and Manarola to meet and fall in love. Thus the pathway came to be known as the Via dell’Amore. Through the decades, the Via has stayed true to its name with lovers from all over coming to enjoy a stroll through its cliff side galleria, which displays breathtaking panoramas to visitors in any season. Approximately halfway along the Via sits the Bar dell’Amore, the original gunpowder warehouse that is now a quaint and welcoming café where visitors can rest, sample a glass of local wine and enjoy 180° views of the coastline and the turquoise waters below.

bar

lover walk

Decades’ worth of amorous graffiti painted onto or carved into the rock adorn the cliff face and the walls of the path’s galleria. Although off-putting to some, true romantics seem to find the sentiments behind the graffiti endearing. “Lucchetti d’amore” or love locks — padlocks marked with a couple’s name and locked in a public place for all to see — are a frequent sight as well.

kissing statue on cinque terre

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You know, one day I’d like to lock a lock somewhere special with some as of yet undetermined male.

5 steps to survive taking an electric shower

2018 Michelle checking in here:  The electric shower is a scary occurrence in several areas of central/south America.  One one hand, I’m grateful for hot, flowing water; on the other hand, I was seriously scared for my life. BUT figuring out how to work this calamity was one of my greater travel achievements.  I don’t think there will be electric showers in Rwanda, but if there are, it’s OK. I’ve figured that out once before.

It's a toss-up: You may get clean; you may die
The shower in my hostel in Bogotá. It’s a toss-up: You may get clean; you may die

Either this was such a traumatic experience for me before that I’ve put it out of my memory or this is some Colombian designed torture device; this is what greeted me the morning after my arrival to Bogotá.

It’s a large electrical time bomb hanging above my head; luckily all the ends of the electrical wires were covered in electrical tape. I have since found out that this is not always true nor is this device confined to Colombia.

5 steps to surviving an electric shower

  1. Is it high enough so that you will not hit your head?  I’ve had problems with showers before that were mounted for people no taller than 5 feet tall. Luckily, all the electrical showers I’ve encountered are way up there out of the way of an errant splash.
  2. Are there any bare wires that could come in contact with water?  Did you bring electrical tape?  If not, a  wash cloth and the sink might be the best option.
  3. Get naked. Do your thing, and get out.  If you have rubber soled sandals, wear them.  This is not the time to reminisce about the day.  Chances are the water won’t be at optimum temperature anyway.  The only way I’ve found to control the temperature of the water is to control the flow of the water.  There’s a science-y explanation for this but essentially the water needs time to roll through the metal plumbing to heat it up before it before comes out.  So you can have warm water flowing like maple syrup in winter or cold water flowing like a fire hydrant.  But not both. Your choice.
  4. If the pop off valve does indeed pop off– DO. NOT. SCREAM. Like I did the first time this happened to me. Uninvited visitors will show up and cause some slight embarrassment.  It is supposed to keep water from spraying up into the wires which could save your life,. However, I have found that they just pop off whenever they feel like it.
  5.  Yay! You are clean, but also soaking wet.  How to turn off the faucet?  You will only reach for the metal knobs once before muscle memory kicks in and you will remember why you never want to do in again. Nobody in these parts have ever heard of grounding wires.  My suggestion is to have a small towel–hand towel sized–that you use for turning off the knobs.

No need to fear the electrical, non-grounded shower.  I, like several before me have survived; you can survive it too.