Monday, July 30, 2007

Onto Sweden and Swedish Yarn.... (Part 1: Stockholm)

We left Dingle and drove back to Dublin, spent one night in a cruddy hotel by Dublin Airport and left the next day, which happened to be my b-day, and went to Stockholm.

Here is the view from our hotel room:
Stockholm is a pretty city and quite different from Ireland. I suppose this is obvious, but I think it's nice when one bothers to travel for one to see something different, new, and interesting! So we did....

Of course, the first thing we did when we got there was take a nap. What can I say? I'm a pretty wild and crazy chick and you never know what kind of exciting things I might do on a big day like my b-day...nap for example....

When we awoke, this is what we saw from our hotel window:
Pretty cool, huh? I took it as a good sign. You can't really see it that well, but there are two arcs that are distinct rainbows and one of them -- the lower, if I remember correctly -- actually has two layers of color to it (like a double rainbow). This was one rainbow for each decade of my life thus far (if you count this as 3), so maybe it means something. Then again....

Anyway, as it turns out, Stockholm is a watery city. There is a lot of naval history here. Here is a picture from the Strandvagen.

And here is a picture from Skansen, the first outdoor museum. It is a big open air cultural exhibit. It's kind of like Epcot or something, but it is more realistic feeling -- definitely less Disney-esque. They have lots of old buildings from all over Sweden that represent life in those different regions over the years. This is taken from up on a hill within the park (it is not of the park):

Lastly, here is a picture of Gamla Stan, the old part of the city. It's pretty fun to walk there and see the older part of the city. It definitely has all the skinny, winding roads that I think of when I think of oooold Europe -- created well before the car was invented. This is nearly impossible for us Americans to imagine if we haven't been to Europe, I think. We are so used to having HUGE roads here and lots more space.

Now for the important part, right? The yarn!!

We initially set out for a yarn store that I had read about online at that website I mentioned earlier in the first Dublin post. That place was gone, but unbelievably, on our walk there, we just happened to stumble upon a sign set out in the street for another shop that was a few blocks away. I think maybe the store is relatively new. I could not believe our luck! Isn't it wonderful? Anyway, that yarn store is called Nysta. Here is their clever little "Open" sign. Can you see the yarn?

Oh, and here is a very attractive, flattering picture that Andrew took of me inside the store. I'm sharing this ONLY for the greater good of letting you see the inside of the shop:

Of course, if he hadn't taken this picture, you wouldn't have one to see. I am pitifully embarrassed by asking people if I can take pictures of things like the inside of their store. Andrew is not. That's why we make a good team, I suppose.

I don't even sort of have a clue as to what the name Nysta means. Also, they apparently sell Monster there and if anyone can tell me what that is, I'd be eternally grateful! I DO know what garn is, though, and we bought some! Here it is:

As you probably recall, I was collecting yarn for a blanket. I knew setting out on this journey that I might have gauge and color problems with the yarn I was buying. This is especially true since we wanted to get yarn that was made in the country where we bought it. Since I hadn't had foresight enough to take samples of the Irish yarn with me to the store, we were stuck just dealing with the color. The decision I made was to pick a neutral as I figured that would be the easiest thing to deal with. "Neutral??" you are thinking. "That looks anything but neutral!" Well, you're right. I might have had a little incident while I was there. Maybe I left with a little more yarn than intended. Maybe not.....

Here is the neutral stuff:
It does have a little bit of red in it (I don't know how well you can see that) so it's not entirely neutral, but pretty good. The gauge is WAY off from the Irish yarn.... So it goes. It was the only yarn they had that was truly 100% Swedish (from start to finish -- no, not Finnish! Ha, ha, ha), so we had to have it. The name Mullvad apparently means Mole in English. I think that's what the owner woman said. Sounds sexy, doesn't it?

specs: 100% wool, made by Fargkraft, color: Mullvad, 700m per skein

And then, this somehow made its way into the shopping bag:
I assure you that this has nothing to do with my weakness. And nothing at all to do with the sales woman showing me a shawl that could be made with this stuff..... And it definitely didn't have to do with my thought about how I'd maybe never be back there, never be able to buy Swedish wool ever again. This color is Havsgron, which means sea grass or something like that. Some kind of grass. I don't know.... I should add that I've omitted the Swedish accents so I could be writing an entirely different word than that meant by the label. Oh well. I apologize to the Swedes for being so lazy.

Lastly, in a moment of true breakdown, we got these:

I am proud to tell you that Andrew was right behind me on this one. The stuff on the left is for socks for me and the stuff on the right is for him. It just so happens that blue is his most favorite color ever and it has the double whammy of having the same colors as the Swedish flag. He is, after all, the Swede in this family. Good colors and symbolic all at the same time. How can you say no?? The wool that the yarn is made from is Peruvian, I think, and it is dyed (and possibly spun) in Sweden. It is by Eko, which I read somewhere on the web is made by a cottage industry group and is eco-friendly in its production. The colors don't have names.

And a close-up:

If you're really interested, you can go to the Nysta website, click on "garn," click on "Ovrigt," and scroll down to Fargkraft for the first two and Eko for the other. I'm not sure what you'll do with that info, since I don't believe you can buy from them and if you're like me, you don't speak a lick of Swedish (though I can say thank you, you're welcome, and yarn!). Good luck anyway. It's always nice to drool over yarn, right?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Ireland: Part 3 (Irish Wooooooool)

Let me begin by apologizing for how picture heavy this post is. If you have dial-up you will probably hate me. So, sorry for that.

Now, you may or may not have wondered why it has taken me so long to post since the last one. The short and simple answer is that I was avoiding the web like the plague because I was convinced (as a result of a few close calls) that the answer to the ending of the Harry Potter book was going to jump out from the web and bite me before I finished. However, I am back again despite the fact that I am not finished with the book. So far I have not been bitten by the end -- I've been very careful not to find out and I plan on staying that way until I have finished the book.

Anyway, back to Ireland! In my last post I stated that I had finally found yarn and that I was elated, but that I was utterly convinced that I was not going to be able to find any more yarn in Ireland because a) I hadn't found much yet and b) the woman at the store said so.

Turns out I was wrong (sort of -- I only found one kind of yarn, basically). But, let's do this chronologically, shall we?

From Kinsale we went on to Dingle, or An Daingean as it is now called on the maps (I use them both interchangeably). This naming, as it turns out, has been a point of major contention in the area. Ireland has been working on reclaiming its language (Irish) and part of this has been to designate areas of the country as unique for the maintaining of cultural traditions and language (a heritage site, basically). An Daingean was one of those places. The result was that the government renamed what had been called Dingle for a long time -- they called it An Daingean (obviously). This is all well and good, in theory, but unlike the rest of Ireland, where everything is posted bilingually -- in English and Irish -- An Daingean is now listed only as that (not Dingle). Long story short, the business owners of Dingle were never asked whether they wanted the town's name changed and they are mad about it, because they feel it could affect their business.

Anyway, so we went from Kinsale to the town of An Daingean/Dingle on the An Daingean/Dingle Peninsula. It is just north of the Ring of Kerry, which is apparently famous for its beautiful sites. Happily, Dingle is just as beautiful, but supposedly less crowded. No, I suppose it really is less crowded, but holy cow were there a lot of tourists there anyway. Happily, when we went off to do our car tour of the area, there weren't that many people on the road or at the sites. It was terrific.

The scenery on our drive onto the peninsula was spectacular. I don't have a great camera, so I can't even begin to describe what it looked like with this crappy picture, but hopefully you get the idea.

On the way in, we saw lots of these:

I read somewhere that An Daingean has about 40,000 people year round and 500,000 sheep. Imagine what we knitters could do with that place!

The town of Dingle was where we anchored ourselves for that part of our Ireland stay. It was a really cute little town and it was full of great music and yummy ice cream.
One of the coolest things about it was that it had many multi-purpose places of business. It had a barber shop where hair is cut by day and drinks are served at night when it becomes a pub. It has a hardware store like this too. What a hoot!!

On our drive around the peninsula, besides lots of green stuff, we saw a huge number of ruins. Apparently the ruins have been unusually untouched because the people in the area consider them haunted or enchanted. If you mess with one of these places, you mess with the fairies that live there too. And for those who don't believe in fairies, I'm sure they've come to appreciate the value of these ruins for business as well. There were a lot of famous ones in the area, but I'll just show you two shots:

Pretty cool if I do say so myself.

On our drive around the peninsula, we got stuck in a traffic jam. I saw the slow down up ahead and I couldn't believe it -- was fairly irritated, in fact. And then I saw what it was that was keeping us up:

Suddenly, I wasn't so irritated anymore. The sheep came complete with shepards and sheep herding dogs, neither of which I got a good picture of, so I don't have one to show you here.

But what about the yarn, you ask?? Well, we found two places to buy yarn. There was the Kerry Woolen Mills place that had yarn that wasn't too exciting, but the guy was nice and price was right, so I got some yarn there.
I got what I believe he was calling "organic wool," if I remember correctly. It is wool with its original color. I would not normally be that excited by this, as I am a color woman, but something about the fact that I had seen so many sheep while I was there made me want something that looked a lot like them (more than hot pink does, for example).

Then we went to this wonderful place called Commodum. At first I thought the woman there wasn't very friendly, but eventually I figured out that she was just letting me do my thing and that English wasn't her first language, so perhaps she was a little shy about approaching people in her shop. In the end, the woman was nice and I enjoyed myself very much. (My husband got me a birthday gift there too, which I have forgotten to photograph. It's a beautiful little sculpture.)

How could I ever have doubted them, with windows like this?:

At Commodum, I went a little nuts. Here is what I got:
The colorful stuff is for the blanket that I am going to make (which I mentioned in a post before leaving) that is going to be a memento of our trip and in honor of our wedding. We are both excited about this!

The big thing of grey wool is for a sweater for myself. I really need a no-nonsense wool cardigan. My old cardigan is wasted and my mom makes fun of me every time she sees it..... To give you an idea, it has something elastic in the yarn and although it started out as a perfectly normal cardigan, it now practically drags on the floor when I wear it. Nice, huh? Perfectly unacceptable for a knitter, I say!

So, we found yarn in Ireland finally. Perhaps too much. To give you a sense of how much yarn this is (you have to imagine us dragging this around in our backpacks and in additional bags), I give you a picture of my husband with the yarn on him (including that from Kinsale) to give you scale. Yes, I think that WOW would be a reasonable response!

Only four more countries to go!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Harry Potter Interlude (Neighborhood Pride)

Yes, I've been writing about my trip, but today is special. Today is the day before the Harry Potter book is released. In case you didn't know....

I just wanted to post a note about how I think I might have the coolest neighborhood in the world. You see, my neighborhood (Andersonville in Chicago) is hosting a Harry Potter Book Release Celebration. Of course, it started with the local book store Women and Children First, which has been planning a Harry shindig for months. They said it is a lot of fun and a good time if you have kids, and even if you don't, it's a lot of fun watching the kids go nuts as the time approaches for the book to be sold. Because I don't have kids, I wasn't too excited about that prospect -- kids hopped up on anxious energy and sugar? No thanks. But then again, the book release at 12:01 AM....

Happily, when I got to the store the other day, I saw this:

I don't know if you can read what it says if you blow it up, but the point is that this party is no longer just for kids (well, it probably never really was since there are so many non-kids who read the stuff) and it's no longer limited to the bookstore. I couldn't believe it when I heard that the bookstore had actually gone to the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce to hook others into having "a Neighborhood-wide celebration of all things Harry Potter, featuring a scavenger hunt, costume contest, food and drink specials, games, prizes, [etc.] . . . ."

So, you see, I DO in fact live in the coolest neighborhood ever. Not just because they got on the HP bandwagon, but because they did it in such a fun way and because they've decided to make it fun for everyone! I am truly impressed that there is such a willingness to embrace silly things in the name of fun -- to make the neighborhood a more pleasant place -- and I am reminded once again why I wanted to move back to this neighborhood when we came back to Chicago! Hooray!

If you can't see what it says and you actually care, I will tell you that among other things, 9 local restaurants and bars have gotten on board to offer HP themed food and . . . butter beer!! Does such a thing actually exist in real life? I can only imagine. And some of the places offer discounts on items after 12AM with the book! I can't wait!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Ireland: Part 2 (Out of Dublin)

So, we left Dublin on the 15th of June after having been there really only 2 days. It was hardly enough time to see the city, but it was good to have gotten a taste for it and we were really excited to get out to the countryside, as this is where everyone who visits the country raves about. We hoped very much to buy some yarn, too, gosh darn it, but as you know from the previous post, we had difficulty finding yarn in Dublin, so it was hard to imagine finding it anywhere else....

After discussing our route with the woman at the car rental agency at Dublin Airport, we decided to drive along the eastern coast on our way to Dingle, which was our ultimate stop. Dingle is on the far west side of Ireland (on Dingle Peninsula, just north of the Kerry Peninsula), so the other people at the car rental agency thought we were crazy. They all said it would take too long. We did it anyway. And it was worth it!

We went south and east from Dublin. We went through Wexford, where we got a flat tire, thank you very much:

What we learned about Wexford, though, is that 1) they have vegetarian food despite not being a very big place, and 2) the people there were pretty darn friendly. In addition, they had a space with crafts for sale, which as you can imagine had a certain pull for me as soon as I heard about it, and it was located in this really cool old church. Because I'm not so good with the foresight, I didn't get the name of the church, but here is a picture of it:

As I'm sure you can see, it is missing its roof. That's how old this place is! There is a church area on the grounds with a roof that is much more likely to be the actual location of worship. It was fun to think that if we hadn't gotten a flat tire, we never would have stopped in this town.

Next major town we went through was Waterford. Yes, as in the place that the crystal is from. We even drove past the plant. Here is a picture of what Waterford looks like:

Because of our flat tire, or flat tyre, as they would spell it, we were driving a little later than planned, so we didn't stop and do anything in Waterford.

We ended up spending the night in Kinsale. If we get a chance to go back to Ireland, I would definitely want to go check out Kinsale some more. It is a cute little town (a picture from our hotel room at The White House ....).

This was the first night we were awake enough to take advantage of the old music in the pubs, which was excellent, as we had read so much about this. It was also advantageous as we were stuck in the room directly above where they were playing (at our Inn) since all the other rooms in town seemed to be booked. It was a good time and I was shocked at how many people (young and old) could sing along with the old music. I thought this was just something one heard about. Very impressive. If you can tell from my blurry picture, these guys are pretty young themselves. The real reason I took this picture is because of the jersey on one of these guys (the guy on the right).... Boston friends, do you see it?!?!?

I know it's hard to see. Blow up the picture. I think you can imagine what it says. Their name, by the way, was ... brace yourself... Streams of Whiskey.

On a whim, the next day, we looked for yarn shops and asked around. There were none. However, we did stop into Heather Mountain to look at the sweaters for my mom. Guess what? We found ... yarn!! Oddly, we found yarn only by one company and packaged in large amounts. Since we were never going to find anymore yarn on our vacation, though, we went ahead and got some. Here it is:

We almost got a multi-pack instead, but decided for green for our blanket. The color is prettier in person than it is in this photo. We did, for the record, ask about why there weren't any yarn stores anywhere when we were at Heather Mountain. The women there said that this was because most of the people there found yarn to be too expensive, so they would get together as a cooperative and buy large amounts as a group to make it less expensive. This made sense, I thought -- particularly for all of the people who must have been making the sweaters that were for sale at this store. There were a lot of sweaters there. Seriously. Maybe not a lot for the Gap or something, but when you figure that all of them had been hand knit!?!? Wow.

After FINALLY getting some yarn, we left Kinsale happy, and on our way to Dingle. Some where on our way to Dingle, we saw this thing:

I think it's a statue of something vaguely sheepy.... What do you think?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Finally! Ireland: Part 1 (Dublin)

Well, so I promised to post this last week. And I didn't.... I think I'm still dealing with jet lag, what can I say?

I've decided to talk/blog about our trip chronologically and this means the yarn will come up chronologically as well.

We started out from Chicago's O'Hare on June 12. Here we are, looking appropriately cheesy--including the little pins that we had made for the guests at our wedding which we are wearing that you probably cannot see (husband busted them out of his bag just as we arrived at the airport). I don't remember if I made this clear or not, but besides traveling to celebrate our birthdays, this trip was our very belated honeymoon!

Please note how little luggage we had with us -- we were going for 3 weeks!! We took those two bags/backpacks and one carry on per person (my purse and husband's messenger bag). We were very proud of ourselves for traveling so light. We decided to follow Rick Steve's recommendations and just take a minimal amount of clothing so that we would have less to carry. Seeing as how there was no way we could carry 3 weeks' worth of clothing with us, this seemed reasonable -- we'd just have to wash clothes as we went along.

Besides many delays, our traveling was pretty uneventful.

The first moment I realized I might have a problem with my packing (after we FINALLY got our luggage, which of course had to get separated from us) was the instant I opened it and saw:

Do you see the problem? Half the contents of my bag is yarn!?!?! How did I let it take over my brain like that? You see in here the Noro book and yarn that I have for the sweater I wrote about quite a while ago. Also included was the sock kit I got from Blue Moon Fiber Arts which I wrote about quite a while ago as well. I figured I was going to have time on trains so I should probably bring some knitting along.... Am I the only one who gets this over zealous? Not pictured here is the pair of socks that I was already working on for my husband. Let me just warn you now: the yarn to clothing ratio did not improve on the trip....

But let me explain something. I thought that we would find hoards of yarn shops in Ireland because of all that I've heard about Irish Knitting. We did not. Not in Dublin, especially. We went to a Mills store (I can't remember which) that was just on the north side of the Ha'penny Bridge expecting yarn galore and didn't find much there. We found some pre-made sweaters. We also saw some sewing notions and a handful of yarn -- most of which looked to be acrylic, which was not what I was looking for. I'm pretty sure this was the Dublin Woollen Mills. Disappointing, to say the least.

Then we went to Hickey's which was recommended on this site. Hickey's is a fabric/home decor store, as it turns out. The Hickey's on Henry St. had some yarn downstairs, as promised. However, there really wasn't much. I would not bother going there unless you're ONLY going to Dublin, you HAVE to have souvenir yarn, and you can't get anywhere else. Oh, and do NOT go to the one at St. Stephen's Green, as they don't have any yarn. I didn't get to check out some of the other shops that were listed on the site I mentioned above. I really wanted to go to the Springwools shop because it looks good from their website AND my grandfather's last name was Spring (as is my mother's). So, it would have been a fun homage. However, we couldn't make it to that store. We were in Dublin for such a short time!

Alas, we left Dublin without yarn and I have to admit that I thought that I just might leave Ireland without yarn! I mean, if the big city doesn't have it, who will??

We did manage to get a little sightseeing in besides the yarn shop. Among other things, we walked along Grafton St. Here is a shot of that:

It is a pedestrians-only street for shopping, which is pretty cool. And, yes, we had our obligatory Irish rain.

Even the agony of the rain and the yarnlessness were soothed by a stop into The Foggy Dew which was in the trendy Temple Bar area (picture includes husband, who hates having his picture taken). The bar was quite lovely. It was dark and cozy and a welcome retreat from the rain. We were also feeling quite jetlagged still at that point, so it was nice to have a pleasant, mellow place to duck into.

We found it fairly well populated by people who seemed to have stopped in after work to hang out with friends and let the stress of the day fall away. The inside was all covered with rich wood paneling and on the walls were album covers for English bands. I thought this was a little odd given that we were in Ireland, but who doesn't feel respect for The Who, David Bowie, etc.??

And, of course, we had our very first real Irish Guinness. Look at this baby. I don't normally drink Guinness at home, but I had to have it in Ireland (I had read that it's actually much better in Ireland, as it is very fresh). It was very smooth and nice. The bartender took forever to pour it, just as we had been told they would. Nothing gets poured like a Guinness -- they don't take that long for other beers (I watched). Somewhat surprising was the fact that it was cold. I had heard that beer isn't served cold there, but this was not what we found over all, actually. Maybe it was that we were frequenting places that Americans turn up at all regularly and they complain about warm beer, etc., but The Foggy Dew didn't have anybody else who was obviously American (we found them elsewhere on our trip and then some!).

Oh, and the glasses our Guinnesses came in might have made it home with us . . . . Darn you, Erinn!!

Well, that's the sad story of Dublin and no yarn. It was a lovely city, though, and it would have been nice to have more time there. In no way could it beat the countryside, however, which I will write about next.....

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Oh Boy!

We're back! We just returned on Tuesday from our three week trip to Europe and I have been exhausted. Hopefully I will get over this soon and start posting some photos of the yarn that I bought, the stores we visited, and the places we saw while we were away (that being the order of importance, of course!). This really gives me a new appreciation for all the people who go on trips and blog while tripping or even immediately after. Phew!

I have so much stuff to dig through still, a kitchen to clean (that was mostly finished just before we left town), and photos to download before I can do this, though. I also received my Blue Moon Rockin' Sock Club package and have not . . . gasp! . . . opened it yet. My mom is out of town and I promised to wait to open it until she got back. Since I am completely and utterly overwhelmed with how much stuff there is to do here it is an easier thing to agree to. Of course, I admit that I checked how many days she'd be gone before I agreed to any such thing. I am not about to promise waiting for all that long! I can't even read the RSC posts right now because I don't want to know what's in the package!! But, my mom will be back tomorrow so I will get to finally see it. Hooray!!

So, hopefully a post tomorrow with some pictures, etc. We will be beginning with Ireland.