Monthly Archives: April 2016

Twice as fast as a tortoise sprinting

When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.  For there is in London all that life can afford.

The world is a big place and the more I see of it, the more I realize there is so much to see…which is why I like to return to place later on.  Every time I return to a previously visited place, I feel like I can dig in a little deeper, get to know it a little bit better.  I can visit familiar places and discover new ones.  It’s as if I’m turning a casual acquaintance into a life long friend.

Places change; they aren’t stagnant.  People can change, grow and evolve over time and so can cities.  Take London for example.  It’s a much different place in 2000 than in was in 1000.  It’s even different than it was during my first visit in 1997.  Every time you visit a place, you get fresh eyes and new perspectives. There hasn’t been a single time that have I gone back to a place I’ve been to before and said, wow, nothing’s changed…  It’s just as I remember it.  Not once. Not ever.

A modern marvel of London is The London Eye, first named the Millennium Wheel.  Standing on Whitehall Bridge facing Lambeth Bridge – look over your right shoulder and you see “Big Ben” and the houses of Parliament; look over your left shoulder and you see The London Eye.  Ancient and modern melding together.  This is one of the beauties of London architecture, and you find it on nearly every street corner.

On my first trip to London, the eye hadn’t even begun construction yet. [Construction began in 1998 to be finished by 2000 and to be taken down in 2005].  Now, it dominates the skyline [from certain angles].  It is a massive 443 feet tall [it is not a Ferris wheel. It’s the world’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel] and makes one revolution in a whopping 30 minutes. [Capsules travel at a leisurely pace of 26 cm per second, which is twice as fast as a tortoise sprinting] You can see up to 40 kilometres in all directions on a clear day.  The 32 capsules on the London Eye are representative of the 32 London boroughs, but despite there only being 32 capsules, for superstitious reasons they are numbered 1 – 33. For good luck number 13 is left out [Bummer for me…13 is my favorite number].

Naughty Nuns of Santa Catalina

It’s no secret that I’m a history nerd. Throughout school, history was always my first choice of electives.  Need a religion credit– Catholic History and the secret lives of Monks and Nuns was a much better choice than Old Testament 101. My favorite time period depends on my mood and sometimes my location.  I have written a thesis about the Mayans of Mexico, a lengthy paper about the Witches of Salem, and traced Spanish explorers around the world.   My interest in English history began while exploring/ living in England and German/Prussian/Austria-Hungarian history while hanging out in those countries.  I was a kid and somewhat remember the Yugoslavian conflict and was fascinated while walking around Belgrade/Zagreb, Serbia, and Montenegro.  Italy is a history nerd’s dream, and Greek military history is fascinating [and a perfectly good reason to visit Greece]. My year long plus jaunt around South American had me dabbling in history of its countries, and there is much more to the continent than Incas, narco-terrorists, and dictators.  Enter Peru and its colonial history.

Arequipa is a #historynerd’s dream and is a great place for anyone who loves history.  If you don’t love history, but like pretty buildings, it’s good for that too. And if you’re overloaded on all things Machu Picchu, come to Arequipa; it’s like the Incas never existed. I went without any fixed plans and was content to wander and enjoy its colonial structures.  Arequipa might be my favorite Peruvian city. Lima, the capital, is rough, gritty, and crowded. Arequipa is more refined. Cajamarca, in the north, has interesting history as well, but overall  Arequipa, having better infrastructure, is just a bit better suited to travelers; it’s quieter, cleaner and moves to a slower pace.  It is just my style.

I always thought that had I been born in a different time and place I would have been a nun. Not necessarily because I’m a devout Catholic or would honor vows of purity, chastity, or poverty, but because nuns were the original bad-asses.  In societies where marriage was a means to an end, nuns spat in the face of that. And they were bad-asses in the health care arena too.  Yep, had I been born in the 1500’s, a nun was a much better deal than serf or some lord’s wench.

It’s with that mindset that Santa Catalina was high on my list of places to visit on my stop in Arequipa. Built in 1579, the monastery is a huge mini city within the city that was founded by the Dominican Second Order nun, Maria de Guzman. The Convento de Santa Catalina de Siena was initially meant for rich upper-class women from Spanish families [I would have had to settle for a bit more spartan monastery] and each family would have to pay a dowry upon their daughter entering the monastery. Some dowries were as expensive as 2,500 silver coins which would be the equivalent of $50,000 in today’s currency.  For their dowry, each nun got up to 4 slaves to do their daily chores but were also required to bring things like paintings, intricate tapestries, clothes, and other things would make the environment quite luxurious.  Nothing like the message “God is #1, but luxury is a close second.”  Maybe they didn’t get the memo that avarice was one of the seven deadly sins.

But gluttony and lust were equal pursuits

It was also pretty common for the nuns to throw extravagant parties in their quarters and rumor has it there are tunnels that connect to a local church so Mother Mary wasn’t the only invited guest.  On even more scandalous note, there are stories of pregnant nuns and monk baby daddies were fueled by the allegation that a baby’s skeleton was found encased within the monastery walls. [The Catholic Church denies the claims.]

The Santa Catalina Rave raved right on for nearly 300 years until 1871 when Pope Pius IX sent a strict nun [read: not part of the cool kids] to shut down the party at the Santa Catalina social club. Uncool nun also freed all the servants and slaves [OK, that part was cool] and sent all of the coins, paintings, tapestries, ect back to the Catholic Church in Spain in order to  reform the monastery.

The monastery is constructed from sillar, a white volcanic stone quarried locally and painted blue and orange within. The convent is considered the most important and impressive colonial structure in the city. Since Peru is known for its earthquakes, these continual earthquakes and tremors have forced changes in the structure of the monastery and thus is has some singular architectural characteristics.

In the 1960s, the monastery suffered significant structural damage due to two earthquakes that struck Arequipa. The 20 remaining nuns voted to open the monastery up to the public as a tourist attraction; it was opened to the public on August 15, 1970–a mere 430 years after the city of Arequipa’s founding. The nuns used the funds to pay for restoration costs, install electricity, and install running water.

These days #historynerds like me can freely roam around the beautiful grounds and learn about the naughty nuns that loved to have a good time. And for the navigationally challenged– there’s an interesting twist.   From the instant you walk in – you can only make left turns. I spent 5 hours wandering the monastery only making left turns.  It’s impossible to get lost, and for someone like me, who likes to wander and not pay attention to which direction I came from, it’s a godsend.

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…

trebbio 1

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.

trebbio 2

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.

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

trebbio 5

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.

Cats, Hemingway, and Key West

I have a confession to make that will put me squarely in the literary hall of shame–I have never, not even once, read a book by Earnest Hemingway.  It’s not as if I haven’t tried…I just find them incredibly boring, but to have been Hemingway, to have lived a carefree life of travel, whisky, women [ok, not interested in that part],  and writing, that part is appealing to me. And a giant house full of cats.  The only thing that keeps me from adopting all the strays in the hood is the fact that I do like to pack my bags and head out for a bit.  I can find kitty-sitters for  Lucy and Christopher; if I had 10 or so, it might be a bit more difficult.  Anyway, I digress…

Key West is well known for it’s unique and historic houses, but I’d wager the Hemingway House is the most popular if for no other reason than its former [and current] occupant[s].

hemingway house

The Hemingway House

The house was originally owned by Asa Tift, a marine architect and captain, who built the house in 1851. The estate didn’t become Hemingway’s home until 1931. He purchased the property, which by then had been boarded up and abandoned, for $8,000 in back taxes owed to the city.

Hemingway, his second wife, Pauline, and their two sons lived together in the house until 1940, when Hemingway left for Cuba. In 1951, Pauline (now his ex-wife) died leaving the house vacant, apart from the caretaker that lived on the property.

For the next ten years, Hemingway used the house as a place to stay during his trips between Cuba and his home in Ketchum, Idaho. When Hemingway died in 1961, his sons agreed to sell the estate.

During his years in Key West, Hemingway completed about 70% of his works including A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon and The Snows of Kilimanjaro. [of which, I’ve read none…hangs head in shame]

heminway study
I *might* could get some writing done in an office such as this.

After his death, the house sold at a silent auction for $80,000. A local business owner, Bernice Dixon purchased the house. She lived in the main home until 1964, when she moved into the guest house and turned Hemingway’s home into a museum. After Bernice’s death in the late 1980’s, the estate was passed onto her family who have kept the property open to visitors wanting to learn about the life of Ernest Hemingway.

My interest in visiting the Hemingway house was not because I’m a Hemingway fan , but because I love old architecture. I especially have a thing for buildings with wrap around porches and wooden shutters.

heminway house porch

Hemingway’s Cats

And the cats.  Oh yes, I knew all about the cats ahead of time. Any place that has cats roaming around is my kind of place. Each cat [and there are more than 40 fabulous felines roaming the house and grounds] has six toes or at least the genetic trait to pass on to future ancestors of Hemingway’s favorite pets. These polydactyl cats live all over the grounds. They were all born here and are completely used to camera wielding tourists. They can sleep through any shutter speeds, but occasionally want to be pet or scratched behind the ear.

During my walkabout the house, a cat pranced into the bedroom and clawed at the carpet [just like Lucy does]. She was permitted to do so [unlike Lucy]. She then plopped down at the feet a group of tourists … quite certain that no one would step on her [Much like Christopher. Cats really are the same no matter where you go]. Another cat was asleep on the master bed.

Hemingway cat 4

Legend goes that Ernest Hemingway was given a white six-toed cat by Captain Harold Stanley Dexter. Rumour has it six toed cats are good luck…kinda like cute little four leaf clovers. The gift-kitten was from a litter of the captain’s cat Snowball, who also had six toes.

Hemingway’s boys named their new kitten Snow White and as Hemingway once wrote, “one cat just leads to another”. Even today, some of the cats that live at Hemingway Home are descendants of the original Snow White.

hemingway-cat 3

Argghhhhh….I can’t even stand the cuteness of this guy.

There are so many cats at Hemingway’s house that the museum has its own veterinarian to care for them. How cool is that job. A Cat only veterinarian. Sign me up! Cats, unfortunately, do not live forever. However, there is Cat Cemetery behind the house where one can pay respects.

Hemingway House, cat 5
This guy looks just like my sweet Kaos.

Running around Charleston

I am many things, but one thing I am not is a runner.  Despite my many years of playing sports, running was always my least favorite activity. So how I let myself be talked into running a 10K as my very first (and most likely my last) is beyond me. In a flash of what I can only describe as temporary insanity, I signed up for the 10K.  The thinking was that if I knew I was going to run a race, I’d train for it. Ummmm… not so much.  I don’t enjoy running, and I enjoy cold weather less so October-ish was the last time I did any real training.

My goal is always the same– to not finish last.

Cooper River Bridge Run –        10K  RUNNER          26285
MICHELLE PRYCE         TRAVELERS REST, SC        Female / 35
Date Event Race Name City/State Age Bib Place Cat. Place Pace Time
2015 Cooper River Bridge Run 10K Michelle Pryce Travelers Rest/SC 35 26285 12536 810 10:53/mi 1:07:52

I wore trail running shoes instead of actual running shoes and warm up pants instead of shorts. To say I didn’t dress the part is an understatement, but no matter– I finished 12536th place… decidedly not last in a field of near 40,000 other runners.  My friend DJ finished a lot higher up than I did.

Part of my issue with running is that I get distracted by the scenery… and this is why I make a much better traveler than runner.

We were up much earlier than the sun to catch the shuttle boat from Charleston to Mount Pleasant.

night bridge
the bridge in the frosty moonlight…it was right around freezing when we headed over to the starting line

shem creek
we got to see the sun rise over Shem Creek before the race started

The American flag was parachuted in. It was super-cool to watch

At about 8:30 or so, I was off. The winner had already finished by the time I started. Since the main draw of the race in running over the Cooper River bridge, the bridge is the focal point.


it is a beautiful and architecturally interesting bridge.

Charleston and I have a long, complicated history. Charleston is where I fell in love with travel. I vividly remember an elementary school field trip to visit Ft Sumter, Drayton Hall, and the historic battery. It’s a short boat ride out to the fort, but my imagination stirred–what if we keep going? Where will we end up? What was daily life life in the 1700’s? 1800’s? 1900’s? As a self-professed history nerd, Charleston has everything. Pre-Revolutionary history all the way to today.

Charleston is also where I fucked-up the best relationship I’ve ever been in.  So now my relationship status with the city can only be described as “it’s complicated.”

Old cemeteries rock my world and Charleston is full of them.

Cannons still guard the entry [by water] to downtown

for shoppers, the city market is awesome… going strong 200 years +

my favourite meal ever–Shrimp and grits, and if you don’t care for that, there are plenty of other awesome places to eat and foods to try.