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 Nessy the monster [didn’t find her, but the lake is quite pretty]

loch ness

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.

bagpiper edinburgh

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

Culloden marker

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…

culloden battlefield 2

or as an Englishman…

English burials

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

inverness footbridge

and serves to make it postcard pretty.

inverness-scotland

and no town is complete without a castle

inverness_castle_and_river_ness_inverness_scotland

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

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.

More to Nottingham than Robin Hood

This installment takes us to the home of one of the most famous thieves of all time–Robin Hood and his home of Nottingham [Forest] England.

I’m getting better at reading train tables and I am making the most of my BritRail Pass by using the trains most days of the week.  Nottingham is just over an hour from Stafford and is an easy day trip.  Nottingham is famous for ties to Robin Hood and two of the world’s oldest:   the world’s oldest football team, Notts County [the team itself is not all that good] and the world’s oldest pub–Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem .  Today, it has a population of over 250,000 and is one of the larger cities in the Midlands region.

First up:  Nottingham Castle and its even more exciting caves.  Nearly everyone has heard of Robin Hood.  Most know that he lives in Sherwood Forest and that’s near Nottingham, but I’d never heard of the caves than surround [underneath]  Nottingham Castle.  Nottingham has more man made caves than anywhere else in the world… OK, maybe not the world, but at least the UK.  As I often do, I took to the local library to read about the history of the caves.  It goes something like this:  The caves used to be dwellings – and at one time it was believed that there were more people living underground than above ground. Many of the caves were inhabited until 1845…that’s when the St. Mary’s Enclosure Act banned the rental of cellars and caves as homes for the poor.  The caves are long tunnels which were used to bring up goods from the Trent Valley, others as storage areas for meat, wine and prisoners (including without doubt Robin Hood). There are some for waste (including human waste!) and some for short cuts to the pub [point me in the direction of that one].  I took nearly 50 photos in hopes of getting a good one of just the caves.  Be prepared for steps though… lots and lots of steps.

The caves are just a little creepy, and said to be haunted

 

Part of Nottingham castle

 

A stroll through Sherwood Forest

Major Oak tree in Sherwood Forest… one of the oldest and largest oaks in the world

 

Nottingham’s most famous resident

One of the caves come out here…

One of the oldest pubs in England and the oldest inn

 

and the oldest football team in existence… [Does anyone else wonder who the oldest team played.  Wouldn’t there have to be two oldest teams for a match to occur?]