My (second) trip to Orkney

Hey everybody!
Yesterday, I got back from a trip to the Orkney islands off the north of Scotland, my second such trip there. While the weather could have been better, I have to say, it was still a pretty amazing experience, as I got to see much more than I did last time. It’s still only my second trip to Scotland, which is pretty crazy when you think where the islands are actually located…

Scotland

Anyway. I arrived late on Monday due to delays flying from Edinburgh, and as I was leaving early on Thursday morning, I only had two full days there. And how different the weather was on each of those days! To start with, anyway, I visited the famous Neolithic village at Skara Brae again, as it’s kinda required when you’re on the island, being so famous and all…

If you followed the link to my earlier blog above, you’ll notice just how much better the weather was this time around, which you can really see when you look out at Skaill Bay:

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It was pretty beautiful, I have to say!

From Neolithic living to the Iron Age now, and I next revisited the Broch of Gurness. Still a jumble of stones, it’s nevertheless an interesting and imposing structure:

The weather was already beginning to change here, and didn’t improve for the rest of my trip.

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To the south of Mainland Orkney is a small collection of islands linked together by road. This was only made possible following the construction of three concrete-block barriers built during World War Two by Italian prisoners of war, who also converted two Nissen huts into the stunning Italian Chapel:

The Churchill barriers were built to protect Scapa Flow, the body of water surrounded on three sides by islands which formed the safe harbour for the British Home Fleet during both wars. More on that later, anyway.

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Day Two was very grim, though some really awesome sights were featured nonetheless!

From a very wet and windy Standing Stones of Stennes and Barnhouse village, I trundled off to the reasonably-dry Kirkwall, the capital of the islands. I’ve been here before, of course, though this time managed to visit the Cathedral properly, as well as the Orkney Museum, which has some pretty amazing stuff!

The museum was really interesting. It’s always good to visit places like Skara Brae and see where folks lived in the past, but the items on display in the museum show a much more intimate level of detail that I, for one, find really fascinating.

From Kirkwall, I took a long route along the south of the island, pretty much skirting Scapa Flow. The second-largest natural harbour in the world (after Sydney), and as well as providing the safe harbour for the Home Fleet during the wars, it was also chosen as the place to scuttle more than 70 German ships following their defeat in World War One.

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About mid-way along the coastline is the village of Orphir, which has the remains of an Earl’s Bú, which I believe is analogous to a manor house (rather than the Palace of the Earl of Orkney at Kirkwall), and in the Norse years, this would centre on the drinking hall. Orkneyinga Saga, collected in (I think) the twelfth century on Iceland, tells some pretty colourful stories that take place around this area, and is well worth investigating if you have the time!

The round church at Orphir is also the only such example in Scotland, modelled on that of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It also has a great view over Scapa Flow:

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To conclude, it’s back to the Stennes area, and the mighty Ring of Brodgar!

I was staying at the Standing Stones Hotel, which is not far from the collection of monuments that make up the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, and I must say, the hotel was really nice this time around. Especially, the food! My goodness, it was immense…

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The entire trip was pretty great, though I’m still not a big fan of flying. I’d like to go again, and do a spot of island-hopping, as there is so much more to see on the other islands, but I think if I do, I’d definitely drive up and take the ferry…

Until next time!

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Pizza and gaming!

Hey everybody!
It’s Saturday once again, but it feels like ages since I last wrote one of my legendary rambling blogs (you just know you love them really), so I thought I’d type a little something to help ease the pain. However, not a lot has been happening lately, so this may be more rambling than usual. However!

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Behold! The beef chilli nacho #pizza

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Yes, the beef chilli nacho pizza really is a thing, and you too can partake of it from a Tesco near you! It actually wasn’t that bad – the crumbled nachos went a bit soft from all the other stuff, so it was just like you’re average spicy meat feast-esque pizza, anyway.

I’ve been enjoying the pizza for a while last week. How amazing is the ciabatta pizza, I ask you?! So amazing, I had it three nights running last week – that’s how!

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Ciabatta #pizza

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Anyway. This summer hasn’t been the best, for a variety of reasons, but I’m hoping that we’ll see some decent weather for September. I haven’t been out much for a while, it seems, largely because of the amount of rain we’ve been having, but we’ll see. I have a trip to Durham planned for the end of the month, so I’m hoping for sun then!

There has been quite the emphasis on Warhammer in my latest blogs, not sure if you’ve noticed that at all? Well, this is largely because I’ve picked an extremely interesting time to discover the miniatures hobby. The End Times have been going on for the past couple of weeks, with the return of the legendary Nagash to the Old World. Games Workshop distressingly has little in the way of social engagement with their customer base, beyond their website, so I’ve been collecting bits and pieces on my tumblr site, which you can find here. So far, there have been two models released, one for Nagash himself, and one that can be constructed in three different ways, representing his three lieutenants.

I’ve treated myself to both, which is perhaps a little ostentatious, but I’ve been feeling a bit down following a relationship break-up, so they’ve taken my mind off things. Some more kits have been announced, which is both very exciting and very scary – not just because of the cost, of course, but also because I’m not convinced I’m all that skilled at painting these things yet!

I’ve been working on the Blue Scribes all week. This model is absolutely tiny, the level of detail involved in it is insane! I think I’m about done with it now, anyway, though I have to admit, it’s not as beautiful as I’d hoped it would be:

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However, I think I’m going to have a rest for the time being. I have a lot of model kits at the minute, including the aforementioned Nagash and the Mortarchs, to keep me going for a long time yet!

Reflecting on all of this, it seems funny to think it all started because I was concerned about having to learn how to put together Shadows of Brimstone. Barely a month on, and I’m seemingly obsessed with this plastic crack! Well, it keeps me off the streets. I have no idea whether I’ll ever get into playing the game – though my local GW store is full of really friendly folks, so if I do decide to get into it, I’ll know where to go – but I’ve been really enjoying myself with assembling and painting these models. Some of the finished results are really good (even if I do say so myself!), but I’ve also really enjoyed the process of it all, and the whole learning new skills thing.

I’m still reading The Tamuli, the second trilogy by David Eddings that I’d started reading a while ago. Not that I’m not enjoying it, of course, but it seems that I never really have the time to properly sit down with it and read. I’m approaching the end of the second book, The Shining Ones, and have been enjoying the twists and intrigue so far. However, I can’t help but feel that I want to return to Star Wars. I took delivery of the Kenobi paperback this morning, and everything I’ve heard about that book has been nothing but good. However, I’m also mindful that I was in the midst of my New Republic re-read, and would also like to get back into that. Oh, decisions!

Something else that I took delivery of this morning was this little beauty:

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According to my site stats on boardgamegeek, this is my 600th boardgame (these stats count all expansions separately, so expansion packs for LCGs etc), and will be featured here very soon, no doubt! (Given the latest Warhammer obsession, it should really have surprised no-one!)

So yeah. There have been some interesting previews for games recently, such as this look at the upcoming Saga expansion for Lord of the Rings LCG, and of course, the apocalyptic RPG series I featured last week. However, there hasn’t been an awful lot coming from FFG since the releases discussed around GenCon. Something I find quite peculiar, actually, is that pretty much all of the games/expansions announced at GenCon have now been previewed, except for the upcoming Battlelore expansions. I’d have thought we’d have seen something official on those by now. Hm.

I’ll leave you all with this, anyway. I don’t play any of the Warhammer 40k RPGs, but I thought the picture from this announcement looked really cool!

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Roast zebra

Here at spalanz.com, I like to bring a touch of the exotic into your lives every once in a while*, and today I thought I’d bring you some thoughts on my latest culinary experiment: zebra!

I’d been to the Oswestry Food Festival on Saturday, where there was all sorts of wonderful stuff going on, but the exotic meats chap drew my eye almost immediately, as zebras feature in my upcoming fantasy story. So I promptly purchased a pack of zebra steaks, et voilà!

So I got some sweet potato, parsnip and carrot, and sliced them up into roughly one-inch batons. I got a bit bored of this when it came to the sweet potato, so left them thicker. Par-boiled for 10-15 minutes (I got distracted by facebook, so they may have had longer than necessary). I washed the zebra steaks, then basted with a few tablespoonfuls of the vegetable water to ensure they remain a bit tender, then roast for 20 minutes or thereabouts. You can roast the veg too – I did, but only for as long as the meat was in. Obviously, adjust cooking times if you prefer your meat a little pink – I like mine medium-well, though in this specific instance they turned out well-done because they were smaller than I’d banked on.

And there you have it! From the plains to your plate!

*unless you happen to be reading this from, say, Tanzania, where proud herds of zebra roam free…