Liverpool is lovely

I have always kept a record of my travels.  It used to be with a pen and paper and 35 mm film.  Now it’s all digital. On Flashback Fridays I reflect back on some of my past travels and travel mishaps before I started this blog.

We are back in Merry Old England for today’s installation of Flashback Friday. 

Let me preface this with the following statement:  I am not a Beetles fan.  I am not a hater, but given the choice, I would almost always choose to listen to someone else.  I do appreciated their contributions to music though.  But here I am, in England, and not all that far from Liverpool [1.5 hours away] so it would be wrong of me to NOT visit the city that brought the world the first Rock and Roll superstars…so off to Liverpool I go to spend the day…and night and take in another awesome English football match [Liverpool FC vs Leicester City anyone?] and see if there is more to this city of >400,000 than just the Beetles.

You know what?  There is…The Albert Dock, a very cool hang-out spot for tourist and locals alike.  There is even a yellow submarine floating in the harbour which I thought was pretty cool, but odd, until I realized that the Beetles sang the Yellow Submarine song.

Let’s all sing along now…”We all live in a yellow submarine…”

Albert Dock–Welcome

Liverpool also has some amazing church architecture.  From England’s largest Anglican Cathedral to a beautiful bombed out building to a futuristic catholic church–church architecture in Liverpool is quite grand.

Anglican church exterior

Metropolitan Catholic Church [which looks like a spaceship to me]

the inside of Metropolitan Catholic Church

St. Luke’s Church…bombed out during WWII

Continuing on my Liverpool walkabout, I discover the Cavern.  Since I am not a Beetles fan, I did not know that this was the club that the Beetles first performed as a group.  Several other bands have played here too, and I wish I could have seen some of them.

Little known facts about Liverpool [2 of them]:  It has the oldest Chinese community in Europe and  Liverpool not only gave us the Beetles but also Edward Elgar–without whom no high school graduation ceremony would be complete. [Pomp and Circumstance anyone?]

Liverpool’s Chinatown

The view from the cheap seats at historic Anfield–home of Liverpool FC…my second favorite team in England.

Scaling the highest peak in Wales

I have always kept a record of my travels.  It used to be with a pen and paper and 35mm film.  Now it’s all digital.  Back in 1997, I spent a summer living in the UK…actually, I had a place but nothing to do… so I wandered…and wandered, and one weekend I ended up at Snowdonia National Park in Wales–where I spent more than a couple of weekends while I was in the UK.

Taking on Wales’ tallest peak

My first weekend away landed me in the charming village of Betws-y-coed, North Wales, a village of about 500.  Bewts-y-Coed is located in the heart of Snowdonia. Wales may not be home to the tallest mountain peak, but it still has some challenging hiking.

It has charming waterfalls.

But really what I came to Snowdonia National Park to see was Mt. Snowdon, and it did not disappoint. You see, I like to think that I’m a bad-ass hiker chic. I have visions of hiking the Appalachian Trail or some other multi-week trek. Or climbing Aconcagua. Or Denali. In reality, I’ve rarely done much more than overnight camping and nothing more than a day hike on my on. Certainly not scaling any peaks anywhere. But back when I spent an entire summer in Great Britain, I was a 19 year old college athlete who thought I could do anything, and anything included climbing mountains without any preparation and only minimal supplies.

You see those little squiggles… that’s the hiking path… It’s none too wide, and a bit scary the higher up you get. I didn’t know that these peaks were also ski paths in the winter.

If I’d known what I was in for, I might have been content to hang around the lake all day.

Tips for Climbing Mount Snowdon

  • Entrance to the park is 100% free.  It costs to park, but some B&Bs offer shuttles to the park so if you can snag one of those, total cost is F-R-E-E.
  • Bring lots of layers! It was quite chilly on the summit and this was in June! — bring a water-resistant parka, gloves,  and a hat.  All I had with me was a light windbreaker, a long- sleeved shirt, and a baseball hat.  Clearly, I was expecting better weather from June.
  • Try to climb on a clear day. Your photos will be so much better.  I got lucky.  With minimal planning or prior knowledge of Welsh weather, I had a great day.  As I have since learned, weather at the bottom of a mountain is no prediction of weather at the top of a mountain.
  • Snacks, water, and for me ibuprofen are crucial.  I only had 1L of water, a few power bars and fruit, and zero painkillers.  I crawled up into a ball when I got back to my room, and finally, after a hot shower or two, I could walk normally again.
  • Believe in yourself.  Before I started, I NEVER thought that I couldn’t do it.  I didn’t research it.  I just heard about it and it sounded like a cool thing to do.  Once I got started, I didn’t think I’d make it.  But I’m too stubborn to quit.

This is Wales’ tallest peak; had I known I’d be hiking a ridge, I probably would not have done it. Balance has never been my strong point.

  • Climbing Snowdon is absolutely worth it. This is one of Wales’s best adventures, and one that you’ll always remember.

Be prepared for anything when you are hiking in the Welsh mountains.  The weather can change in an instant.

The view from the highest peak in Wales–simply breath taking.

Pembrokeshire

I have always kept a record of my travels.  It used to be with a pen and paper and 35 mm film.  Now it’s all digital. On Flashback Fridays I reflect back on some of my past travels and travel mishaps before I started this blog.

More Wales…though this time farther south than Anglesey and  a little more north than Cardiff and Swansea.

 A lot of the charm of Pembrokeshire lies in its remoteness.  It seems as if it is a different world.  On the edge of the Earth.  Rocky coasts.  Charming little towns.  The craggy coastal towns on the Atlantic Ocean. Castles. Sleepy little towns.

Some of the best walks on the Wales Coast Path runs through Pembrokeshire.

If I had to choose one are of Wales to visit over and over again it would be Pembrokeshire. Cardiff is nice for industry and Snowdonia is mountainous and wind, but Pembrokeshire gets my vote. It is wild. And beautiful. And sparsely populated. And of all the places I’ve ever visited, this land speaks to me more, and I could one day, you know, immigration laws notwithstanding, call it home. I’d even commit to learning as of now the unpronounceable Welsh language.

Paris is a bitch

This
paris-nye-2012was my introduction to Paris. And to be honest, it was a bit much. Beautiful, but excessive. I’ll be the first admit that I came to Paris, not wanting to like Paris. I knew it is an expensive city and I didn’t need yet another expensive city to be crazy about [London, I’m talking to you]. I knew a lot about Paris before I came here. I knew that if I didn’t resist its charms, I would regret it later. Sort of like that extra bottle of wine at dinner.

If cities were people, Paris would be a supermodel. Super hot, but incredibly high maintenance. It’s unreasonably expensive if you want to take full advantage of what the city has to offer. Compare that to Krakow, Budapest, or Prague; they are just as amazing– just not as famous.

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Yes, Paris is beautiful. Gorgeous even. But still I think it’s overrated. But tourists seem completely infatuated with the city. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Eiffel Tower gets dry-humped a few times a day by overzealous tourists. [yes, I realize I am being crude]

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Perhaps if Paris had been my first adventure instead of London [although to be honest, it took me years to warm up to London], I’d have a different opinion. Or maybe one needs to visit Paris as a couple. Or in the spring. Or perhaps I just have a completely different idea of romance than most.

Admittedly, I am sure I missed out a lot by not knowing French or not having a background in art history or not being a culinary snob. But I can see the city  as a very livable city, if you are earning a local wage. The public transport system [I used it over the holiday weekend; it  was vomit-covered, but free] and bike-sharing system are among the best I’ve encountered.

paris vomit
Parisian Metro vomit–not quite the introduction that I was looking for

I can see the appeal of Paris as a vacation spot for tourists. Amazing art and architecture are everywhere so it’s like a massive orgy of tourism.

notre dame gargolye

And I guess therein lies the problem. I stopped being a tourist about 7 years ago. My ideal way to travel now is slow and easy… to feel a city as a local. I don’t always get to do that, but it’s what I would prefer.  And when you try to do that in Paris, you feel like a low-born serf. Cheap in Paris is still expensive.

In the two days I was there, I found people pretty helpful especially considering I can’t speak any French apart from “Bonjour, parlez-vous anglais?” and “s’il vous plait”. I mean strangers weren’t exactly inviting me home for glasses of wine, but I didn’t find them any more rude than say people in New York City. What I did see was rude tourists rambling on in English without any introduction. And if they weren’t understood, they would just speak louder. Parisians aren’t fucking deaf – they just don’t speak English.

a-bit-touristic

My favorite parts of the city were Pere LaChaise cemetery and Notre Dame cathedral. Maybe it says more about me that I preferred hanging out with the dead than engaging with shopkeepers, waiter, or merchants.

Pere LaChaise Cemetery Paris, France

Should you visit Paris? Sure, it’s definitely worth visiting. Especially if it’s your first time to Europe. Would I go back? Probably not, but I’d glad I checked it out.

If you’ve been to Paris, what did you think?  Would you go back? What am I missing?

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I’m not scared, and you shouldn’t be either

Danger...danger

The other day I was in Target getting a few things for my upcoming trips.  One of these things just happened to be a portable luggage scale. And that set off the questions by the friendly, but misinformed cashier.  I should point out that the cashier was a woman, most likely in her 50’s. The conversation then went something like this.

Cashier:  I wish I could travel.

Me:  You can.  Anybody can really.

Cashier:  I have a job      

Me:  So do I

Cashier:  Well, I don’t have anybody to go with me.

Me:  Neither do I most of the time

Cashier:  You go BY YOURSELF!  Aren’t you scared?

Me:  [Commence Eye Rolling]

And that is how nearly every interaction goes with someone who I don’t know well or not at all whenever they find out I do this thing called TRAVEL BY MYSELF. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve received a handful of emails and comments from seemingly well-meaning people [mostly women and mostly older than me] asking me all kinds of questions about traveling solo. I don’t necessarily want to be pigeon-holed as a SOLO FEMALE TRAVELER [or solo female traveler blogger for that matter] because what happens when I have a travel partner, or a sex change?  Does that mean my experience is no longer valid or relevant?  I’d like to think not, but the fact remains, that as of today, I am decidedly female, and I do travel alone about 95% of the time.  So I guess that sort of makes me an ambassador for girls traveling alone.

kitty hiding We all can’t hide under a blanket forever


Anyway… I’ve been traveling alone for a few years now — not because I inherently dislike people, but usually because I don’t want to wait around for someone to travel with me and because I kind of LIKE to be on my own and have the freedom to do what I want when I want.  And yes, since I am being honest , I WAS scared the first time I traveled by myself, and I was probably scared the second and third times as well.  And planning trips with others in mind is a huge task… especially when said others don’t have a fucking clue about what they want to do in said place.

The media–whether you are right leaning or left leaning or somewhere out in left field– is our common enemy when it comes to traveling alone. It’s a common misconception that it’s inherently dangerous to travel solo if you are a woman. I’ll admit–traveling solo as a woman IS a different experience than traveling solo as a man. As a woman, you DO have to be more careful and more vigilant in some cases. You have to be more aware of how you’re dressed, who you decide to trust, and how decisions you make could affect your safety. However, this doesn’t just apply to traveling. In a world where violence against women is a growing problem [even here in USA and especially in SC which ranks #1 for violence against women], being careful and vigilant is something women just DO. EVERY. SINGLE. FUCKING. DAY. It’s certainly not confined to traveling. Which brings me to my point [and I do have one, in case you were wondering]:

Traveling solo as a woman is not automatically dangerous.

It’s no more or less dangerous than doing things alone as a woman in your home country or town. People ask me [quite frequently these days] if I’m ever afraid to travel solo. And my answer is always no.  And these are the reasons why:

I Trust Myself

This hasn’t always been true.  There have been times in my past where I didn’t always trust my instincts or did things that dulled those instincts.  Common travel wisdom is don’t do anything abroad that you wouldn’t do at home. I take that a step further.  Some of the things I would do at home, I would never do abroad.  So I evaluate the situation and assess the risk.  Things that I would do at home like wander around, accept rides from strangers [yes, I’ve done it], go off without telling somewhere where I am, get blitzed on a night out are things that I’d never consider doing abroad. I also get a map and study it on day 1 so that I can be aware of my location.  I have learned to be aware of my surroundings and to trust my gut. Should I find myself in a situation where I feel uncomfortable, I do what I can to remove myself from it. When you travel solo, you are your own best, and sometimes only, defense. st wenceles square

I Trust strangers

People you meet on your travels ARE, for the most part, going to be helpful rather than threatening. As a solo female traveler, I’ve had countless experiences where I’ve actually had complete strangers looking out for me on subways [giving me directions when I got on a wrong train],  making sure I got off at the right stop on trains or buses, or given me rides when it was needed. My travel experiences have be greatly enhanced by trusting my instincts when trusting strangers. Just as the world isn’t an inherently dangerous place, people are not inherently evil. I don’t always make conversation with strangers and occasionally I am suspicious about anyone who tries strike up a conversation with me, but most of the time people are just trying to be friendly. Which brings me back to point 1:  Yes, it’s important to be careful and to trust your gut. But every unknown face as a threat. Your travels will be enriched when you open yourself up to new conversations and meeting new people.  And you’ll learn that people are more similar than different.

kissing the blarney stoneI had to trust that this guy wouldn’t drop me as I leaned over the cliff, upside down.

I Trust the Herd

If I ever DO find myself in a destination where I don’t feel completely comfortable on my own, I know that there are always ways to ensure that I’m NOT alone. A lot of times, I may book myself on a day trip to a place I’m unfamiliar with or want to visit, but don’t feel confident visiting it solo. It’s rare that you’ll find my in a hotel. I opt to stay in hostels or guest houses where it’s easy to meet other travelers and join in on group activities.  Usually people don’t mind if you tag alone. I’ve learned that traveling solo doesn’t necessarily have to mean being alone all the time.  

I Trust my research

I am not a planner, but I do like doing research on new destination.  I will always have a couple of things in mind that I’d like to see or do for any new destination.  If it is a truly foreign destination, I’ll brush up on a bit of the language, read up on things like cultural norms, common scams, and how I should dress as a tourist. If I am traveling to some of the more conservative countries, I make sure to pack more modest clothing. Not only does this make me feel more comfortable, but it also tends to cut down on unwanted attention. Doing my homework helps me fit in to new cultures better, and also makes it easier to be vigilant without being scared or paranoid. firing demo
It’s, OK…I knew ahead of time there would be a musket firing demonstration

I trust humanity

Every country has statistics of which they are not proud, but that doesn’t mean every person who lives in that country has contributed to those statistics. The US has some of the highest violence rates in the world, and yet I wouldn’t consider it a dangerous place in which to be a tourist… although once again, there are some places that I am scared to travel by myself in the USA.

We see so many movies and read so many sensationalized headlines that we’ve become conditioned to assume that the world “out there” is a scary, dangerous place. But guess what? It’s not, and if you were that scared and that worried about safety, you’d never venture outside your front door.

black sheep 1
You can’t be scared of a  little black sheep

and if you can’t trust people, trust animals… animals will never lead you astray, but sometimes, I get scared of animals… especially bears.

Monsters and legends in Inverness, Scotland

Let’s get one things straight right off the bat:  Scotland is awesome. The more places I visit in this beautiful country, the more I fall in love with it.  I came to Inverness for two reasons:  to see the monster and to be in the Scottish Highlands.  I was only partially successful. Inverness has about 50,000 people and it is considered the capital of the Highlands.

I searched Loch Ness for the monster [didn’t find her, but the lake is quite pretty]

I heard a plethora of bagpipes. The local college in the town that I grew up in had a mascot that was a ‘Scotsman’, and he played the bagpipes at official college functions. I’m pretty convinced that there is only one song  [+ Amazing Grace] that is ever played on the bagpipes.

Made my way to Culloden Battlefield…It was hauntingly beautiful. In the mid 1700’s a very violent and bloody battle occurred between the Scotsmen and the English…Today it is a beautiful, lush windswept moor

I am horrible at genealogy, but as my ancestors are from the Carolinas [and Carolina was settled mainly by Scots, Irish, and English] for as far back as the USA can count its history, I’d wager that some of my distant relatives died on that battlefield. Either as a Mac-something…

or as an Englishman…

The Inverness footbridge allows for viewing of the River Ness from the town…

and serves to make it postcard pretty.

and no town is complete without a castle

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.
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

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.