Tag Archives: travel

All over but the Kahlua

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Yesterday, I flew back to Toronto from Nova Scotia. As you may have heard, the East Coast (as well as Ontario, Quebec, and the American Midwest) got rather a lot of snow yesterday, so my flight was delayed. Since my mum drove me to the airport in a snowstorm, a delayed flight was a welcome excuse not to rush, and we got there in time to have dinner in the airport pub before hugging goodbye at security. My flight didn’t board for another hour and a bit, but I was knitting and it wasn’t cancelled, so I wasn’t upset.

In journalism, three instances or examples of something in a reasonable period of time is considered a trend, and if that’s the benchmark I think it’s fair to say that delays during holiday travel have become an annual tradition for me. Not a tradition of my own making (I’m not missing flights or anything), but nonetheless, I’m getting good at waiting patiently in airports, not freaking out about bad weather, and mentally preparing for cancellations.

So, delayed flight? No problem. I had a snack in my carry on; I had a sock to finish and another ball of yarn wound and ready in case I needed it; I had two books – in short, I was not worried. The flight boarded and when the woman I was sitting next to asked me to put away my knitting for take off, I said “no problem” and leafed through the in-flight magazine until she said she was okay with me knitting again (I was quietly annoyed, but it was a bumpy flight and she seemed nervous about everything, so whatever, it’s the holidays). I knit through the turbulence all the way to Ottawa (an hour and 45 minutes or so). My nervous neighbour disembarked. I knit while we sat on the ground. I knit through the announcement that the flight was going to be diverted to Hamilton.

Let’s pause here so I can point out that, when the plane lands at the Toronto Island airport, I’m 20 minutes from home, but when it lands in Hamilton, I’m nearly two hours from home. I knit through that and despite being annoyed, decided that it was better than having to spend the night in Ottawa. The airline said they’d have a free shuttle to bring us to Toronto, so I was still going to get home. In bad weather, this is what you have to cling to.

I finished knitting my sock on that flight and then proceeded to sew in the ends. All fifty million little ends (well, there were 12, but that felt like a lot). The light was bad, but by the time we landed, I was almost done. I picked up my luggage (both bags made it!) and got on the warm and waiting shuttle. I finished sewing in my ends, had a nap, arrived in Toronto, grabbed the second cab that pulled up, and was home by 2 a.m. Yes, that’s later than I was expecting to be there, but honestly, only by about two hours, so I considered myself lucky. L and Ganymede aren’t home yet, so our apartment was dark, but it was warm, and there was lots of fun mail, so it wasn’t a terrible homecoming.

It was when I opened my bag to get out my pajamas and whatnot that I got the sense something might be wrong. There was this smell. It was sweet, and unmistakably sticky, and rather coffee-ish. I am, generally, a very slow unpacker. It drives L crazy, but I can’t help it; I hate unpacking. Nonetheless, I went in to investigate. Kahlua. The smell was Kahlua, and it was everywhere. I had packed a bottle in my bag (a gift from my sister) and I guess the pressure must have been too much because the lid of the bottle just sheared right off. When I pulled out the bottle to assess the damage, it was dangerously light, and that’s when I realized how bad it was: not a drop, not a small spill, but an entire bottle of dark brown, sticky liqueur had emptied into my bag. The truly miraculous thing is that it managed to get on every single white object in there while leaving almost all the dark (majority) of my clothes entirely untouched.

Gingerly, I began pulling alcohol soaked shirts and dresses out of my pack. It was like some sort of twisted Rorschach Test – can you really handle holiday travel? what do you see in this impending stain? – and as it became clear that all my favourite clothes were soaked, I held it together. It’s just clothing, I told myself, totally replaceable. Then, oh god, then I pulled out a skein of beautiful hand-dyed yarn that my mum had given me for Chrismtas and discovered it soaked through and I just about lost it. That’s right: delays, diversions, alcohol soaked clothes – all nothing; but three skeins of damaged yarn? Tears. Only two or three, though, because who has time to cry when your wardrobe is on the verge or irreparable stains and your yarn is damaged? (I have no photos of any of this because, although it is excellent blog fodder, it didn’t occur to me to take photos until after everything was in the water. Use your imagination, I doubt you’re picturing something worse than the reality.)

Thank goodness I’m a knitter. We are, without a doubt, the best equipped to do major hand washing, and I sprang into action. SOAK is a lifesaver. Alongside Spray and Wash, I think I may have saved everything. Seriously. Everything was still so wet that nothing had a chance to set, so after dousing it all with stain remover, I plunged it into a bucket of warm water filled with SOAK and left it there overnight. This morning the water was the colour of dark toffee, but my clothes came out stain free. The yarn I rinsed (carefully) in very hot water and hung to dry, it looks okay I think.

I may never be able to drink (or smell) Kahlua again, and I still have to do a proper clean of my bag, and I’m pretty sleep deprived, but I’m home. And, as a gift to L, I’m unpacked uncharacteristically early. I can only hope that if you have holiday travelling ahead of you that it goes more smoothly!

Oh, the socks? Here’s a shot of them finished (but unblocked – I’ve been a little busy). I’ll do a proper post about them later.

cranberrysocks3

If it’s going to rain, it’s good to be at home

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I’m not sure how we managed it, but the best weather of our trip was when we were camping. I don’t know if my morale would have held up if I’d had to hike out (and up) in the rain, and the drive from Cape Breton back to the Annapolis Valley (about 6 hours) would definitely have been wasted on bad weather. It’s just as well, then, that it didn’t rain until next day, our first full day at home.

Rain in Nova Scotia is not like rain in Toronto. In Toronto, we rarely get a full day of consistently torrential rain; in Nova Scotia, a rainy day is a very rainy day. Very rainy. Luckily, we were coming off several days of outside activity, so an indoor day wasn’t entirely unwelcome. I blogged, L caught up on some work, and then I taught my sister to knit.

Would you just look at that concentration?

Her birthday was last month, and I told her that, as a present, I’d give her a knitting lesson. She came by the shop a few weeks ago and picked out her wool (she went with Berocco Ultra Alpaca in a pea green sort of colour, which was a good beginner’s choice, I think) and since we were going to be visiting our parents at the same time, we decided that would be a good time to start. I packed needles, she packed wool, and on Wednesday, the lesson began. I taught her the cable cast-on, and then knitting and purling, so she can make a nice stockinette scarf. I thought about just teaching her to knit a garter stitch scarf, but that gets boring after a while and you may as well learn both stitches from the get-go.

Jenny does not like purling, but otherwise was doing well. I had to rip out a few sections for her (at her request, I should add) because of holes and, twice, because she’d reversed the stockinette, but by Sunday she had a pretty good hang of it. She’s going to come visit to learn how to cast off.

After the first rainy day, the weather improved a little. It was still overcast and wet, but not full-on raining, so we decided to head out for the afternoon. We went wine tasting. The area where I grew up has steadily become wine country (there are six wineries within 20 minutes of my parents’ house) and the wines are fantastic. We set out to visit all of them, but because the tastings are so generous and plentiful, we had to stop after four.

While I do not know what kind of grape this is (it’s about a month from harvest, though), I can tell you it was at the Sainte-Famille winery.

It was a grey day, but the view from Muir Murray (that’s Blomidon on the horizon) is always gorgeous.

We visited (and tasted at) Sainte-Famille, Muir Murray, and Gaspereau Vineyards, and also walked around the Domaine de Grand Pre winery, but decided we needed a breather. We still bought six bottles of wine: two bottles of maple wine (did you know you could ferment maple syrup? Neither did I), a maple port, a Muscat, a Baco Noir, and a Marechal Foch. Nova Scotia is acclaimed for its white wines, but I find it hard to pass up its reds. (My dad, deciding that wasn’t enough, then bought us a seventh bottle at the Wolfville Farmers’ Market on Saturday – Blomidon Estate Winery‘s Tidal Bay (a white), which we tasted at the market and agreed was very good. The winery is just down the street from my parents’ and because we both already know and enjoy their wine, we didn’t stop in.)

I think visiting twice each time I’m home is totally reasonably and normal behaviour.

Our little wine tour brought us past Gaspereau Valley Fibres, one of my most favourite yarn shops. Yes, we stopped in. It was there knitting day, so the shop was filled with happy knitters. Honestly, between that and all the new fibre, I was so overwhelmed I didn’t buy anything. Then, of course, I kicked myself all the way home. We went back the next day. (I’ll tell you about that on Wednesday).

We had five days at home, and while I would have been quite content to knit and read and hang out, L wanted to be out doing stuff (and rightly so – he didn’t grow up there). On Friday we went into Halifax for the afternoon with Jenny. Our third sister Connie (the middle) was working, so we walked around Point Pleasant Park and then met up with some friends for coffee before having to scoot home where my parents were hoping to have dinner in the garden.

It’s kind of amazing to think that this park juts out into the water beside the Halifax seaport and is still so lovely and wild-seeming.

Unfortunately, before we made it back, it was rainy again. We thought we could tough it out, but then it started pouring, so we gave in. This is what it would have looked like though, if the weather had behaved.

My parents (especially my dad) do gardening on a different scale than most people. This is the eating shelter in the walled garden in the meadow. Yeah, I know.

On Saturday, we went to the market (as I mentioned) for breakfast and then went hiking. My dad, Jenny, and L went off to Cape Split (which is a gorgeous hike) and my mum and I walked the dikes instead (in this context, dikes are the earthen walls built to keep the ocean out of the plains where the farmers have their fields, just in case you were wondering), which is a very nice long walk.

Another view of Blomidon, this time including mud flats! The tides in the Bay of Fundy (and the Minas Basin) are the highest in the world, and the water level rises and falls 50 vertical feet twice a day. Thus, when the tide is out, there are kilometres of mud flats, and when it’s in, everything is covered.

The tide was out, unfortunately, but we still saw two bald eagles and soaked in some sunshine. We all managed to get home at more or less the same time, and then L and I headed back into Halifax for dinner and a birthday party at the Keith’s Brewery.

Walking around the “garden” (my parents have 5 acres) is a singular pleasure, and often the cats will trot along with you. Here they are (Cosma on the left, Samya on the right) doing a sort of synchronized rolling routine in the bocci court. It was adorable.

In addition to the walled garden, the traditional walk also includes the ponds, which are in the ravine behind the house. It’s a pretty nice place to visit.

Sunday was lovely and sunny, so naturally we spent that day packing. Considering how full our bags were in the first place (hiking + camping + regular visiting = a lot of gear), I think we did quite well to fit seven bottles of wine into our packs. My yarn purchases required an extra bag, but even that seemed reasonable. We loaded up the car and drove back into Halifax to visit with Connie and then head to the airport to fly back to Toronto. I can hardly believe I have to go back to work today, but I guess that’s the sign of a good vacation.

Cape Breton, you beauty

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It’s true. Even if, like me, you know that Cape Breton is supposed to be lovely and picturesque and scenic and all that, it is still jaw dropping. I mean, it’s spectacular. That’s what we kept saying over and over, for the entire four days we were there. L or I, or both of us, would look out at the view and say “Well. That’s friggin’ spectacular,” and then shake our heads.

We arrived in Cape Breton late Saturday afternoon. We flew into Halifax (and, if we’re being honest, very nearly missed our flight out of Toronto. We had to run, and arrived gasping at the check in, and only just managed to board. It was uncomfortably tight, and I was so flustered it took me three tries to get the cast-on right for the Spruce Jaywalkers.) and picked up our rental and drove to Baddeck. We got in around 5 and I must say I was thrilled to see we were staying here:

The Inverary Resort.

Before heading into the woods for two nights, it’s nice to spend in a night in a good bed, you know?

On Sunday morning, we left Baddeck and headed for the famous Cabot Trail, which just so happens to be the only good way to get to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. They aren’t kidding when they call this drive scenic. We stopped a few times to take in the views (and stretch our legs).

Oh, just some ocean, no big deal.

We made it to the park around midday and loaded up our packs. The hike into our campsite was 6 km, almost entirely downhill. We started at the top of Mackenzie Mountain (335 m) and hiked down to sea level. The forest there is kind of striated, with spruce at the top giving way to birch trees surrounded by a carpet of ferns, which gives way to more spruce, which ends with a mix of oak, maple and birch (and a few spruce) at the bottom of the river valley.

Fishing Cove River to the left, our trail to the right; pretty lovely all around.

It was a lovely hike, and it took us here, to Fishing Cove, which was our home for two days and nights.

The view back up the valley from the beach.

Little tent in the big woods.

On the first night we sat up on the cliff and watched the sun set and were lucky enough to see a pod of porpoises (like dolphins) swim across the mouth of the cove just as the water was reflecting all the red and pink and yellow light of setting sun. It was, well, spectacular.

Sunset in Fishing Cove.

Fishing Cove has eight sites, and on our first night, they were all filled. Ours was tucked a little bit back up the hill – still within view of the beach, but on its own – so it didn’t feel crowded. On our second night, though, we were the only campers, which made the cove feel wilder and more ours.

The view from the tent.

The next day, we got up early and hike out of Fishing Cove (6 km back up to where we left the car). From Fishing Cove there isn’t really anywhere to go, and we wanted to do some day hikes. We hiked the Skyline – all the along the spine of a mountain that juts out into the ocean. Part way into the hike, L and I were chatting when all of a sudden he said “moose!” and I turned around and say a lady moose having a snack about two metres away from me off the side of the trail.

Moose!

It seemed not at all concerned that we were there. I wasn’t sure it could get much better than that, but then when we got to the end we saw whales. Sure, we were at the top of the cliff and they were basking in the water down below, but still. We didn’t have binoculars, so I can’t say for sure, but I tend to think they were pilot whales, which are common off the coast and bigger than the equally as common mink whales, making them easier to see.

After we got back to the car, I was about ready to collapse. It turns out that the combination of sleeping on the ground (I do have a good sleeping mat, but still), hiking more or less uphill for 6 km and then hiking an additional 9 km pretty much immediately after has an adverse affect on my legs and hips. Who knew? Needless to say, I was in pain. Of course, we still had to hike back down to our campsite. There are two ways into Fishing Cove: the short way and the long way. We took the long way in on Sunday because we wanted a good hike and L wasn’t sure if his ankle (which he injured a few weeks ago) would be up to a steeper hike. On Monday, though, we decided to try the shorter hike. It’s the same vertical difference (335 m to sea level), but over 3 km instead of 6. Thus, much steeper, but also much shorter.

See that wee that little inlet way down there? Yeah, that’s Fishing Cove. It looks way farther when your legs are about to give out, let me tell you.

It’s also how we were going to hike out with all our gear on Tuesday, because the parking lots for the two trails are pretty far apart. I won’t lie, I was dreading it. The trail was steep (as expected) and also quite rocky. A good chunk of it looks like it used to be a creek bed (and almost certainly becomes one in the spring), so the rocks were loose underfoot. Between that and the pain in my legs, well, I was worried.

These cliffs were red anyway, but they glowed even redder at sunset.

As it turns out, I needn’t have been. Up is easier than down, and we hiked up and out with all our gear in under an hour! Honestly, if I were to camp at Fishing Cove again (and I think I would – it was gorgeous), I would do it this way again. The long trail is definitely a better downhill hike, because the ground is firmer and the incline not as steep, which made walking down with a pack not too treacherous. However, when climbing out I will take short and tough over long and just-about-as-tough any day. Fifty minutes of pain is, for me, preferable to two hours of pain. Otherwise, both are quite nice hikes through lovely woods, and I would recommend them.

L with his pack on the way in, and me with my pack after successfully hiking out. I don’t even look that tired!

In case you skimmed your way through this whole post wondering about the knitting for heaven’s sake! Don’t worry, there was knitting, and wool shopping, and it will get its own dedicated post. It’s worth the wait, I promise.

The Cabot Trail: totally fun to drive, but even better if you’re the passenger. L and I drove the scenic stretches through the park several times (out of necessity) and we took turns. It’s the best way.

August? Paging August.

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I don’t know how it is where you are, but over here I’m a little disoriented. I mean, it was just July wasn’t it? What the heck happened to the last month? This was how I felt about November and March when I was at university – two months that were so jam-packed that they sucked up your life and didn’t spit it out again until you were already on the other side.

That’s when I realized where August went: work. All month, I’ve been working two jobs. I’ve been in the shop or doing shop stuff in the morning, and then come early afternoon I get ready and head off to the Post, where I stay until it’s too late to do anything but go to sleep when I get home. My weekends, while mostly work-free, have also been full. It has been a month of fun and learning and newness, but definitely not a month I would describe as restful. Clearly, this calls for a holiday, and lucky me, tomorrow L and I are getting on a plane and heading east: Nine days in Nova Scotia. Oh heck yes.

We’re going to spend the first four days in Cape Breton, hiking and camping and (hopefully) visiting Baadeck Yarns (I’ve already planted this seed in L’s ear, so he’s prepared). After that, it’s back to the Annapolis Valley for five days of hanging out at my parents’, visiting friends, and being relaxed. There will be sight-seeing, there will be friend-visiting and shopping and all that, but there will also be free time, and unscheduled hours, and oh my gosh, I cannot wait! (Yes, yes, there will be blogging too.)

Because of the camping portion of the trip, packing is a little trickier this time than it was the last time I went. Nonetheless, there will be room to bring some knitting with me, and also to bring some wool home with (we all know what happened last time I went home, after all).

This is a very accurate depiction of the colours in these socks. I love them. I wouldn’t even rip this back (despite my Jaywalker desire) if I wasn’t already feeling they were going to be to big. Sort of serendipitous really.

I am bringing my Fleece Artist Spruce Socks – which I cast on as regular socks and, despite being three inches in, have ripped back so they can become the Jaywalkers they want to be – and something else as-yet undecided. I can’t bring the Christmas socks, because my sister will be visiting home at the same time we’re there. I was planning to bring the wedding mitts, but the yarn still looks like this and I’m not sure I’ll have time to wind to before we leave.

This will be mittens. It will. I’ll wind it just as soon as I’m home.

I feel fairly confident that the Spruce Socks will take more than a week, but there’s a lot of driving and flying built into this trip (L and I will split the driving though) and I don’t want to run out. Considering my yarn-buying plans, this seems like a silly worry, but still, I think I’ll pack an emergency skein just in case. The only question is, where to put it?

One thing I will definitely find room for (and, let’s be honest, I will definitely fit in that extra wool) is my finished Georgian Bay shawl. I cast on in the car on the way to Tobermory the first time we went this summer, knit on it for four days, got home, and promptly got distracted (we talked about busyness, yes?). The weekend of the baby shower, though, I was so filled with productive glee (read: caffeine) that I stayed up and finished it. That was two weeks ago, but since we were going back to Tobermory, it seemed only right to take pictures in the place it was meant for.

This is kind of a little shawl, I admit, but under a light sweater or jacket it’s perfect. I already want to make another one (though maybe slightly larger).

While it’s slightly smaller than I’d choose (dear self: go up a needle size; just figure it out already), I love it. I love the colour, I love how soft the wool is, I love the eyelets, I love it. I was convinced I wasn’t a triangle-shawl person, but I take it back.

Details
Pattern: Doublish, by Alex Tinsley
Yarn: Madeline Tosh Merino Light in Nebula
Needles: 3.25 mm Addi lace circulars
Modifications: None! I can hardly believe it either. It’s ravelled here if you’re into that sort of thing.

I bought two skeins of Nebula because I was worried about yardage (I am always worried about yardage, but the pattern was pretty specific on this point) and have an entire unwound skein leftover. I was thinking about exchanging it for another colour – unless you have a better idea?

The perils of the best laid plans

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Sometimes I guess it’s possible to both plan too well and not quite well enough. This was the case of the Leftover Socks, which were originally intended (as the name suggests) to use up some of the leftovers from my Colour Affection shawl. That was the original plan. I weighed a pair of socks I had recently knit and then weighed the wool I had left, and happily discovered that I had enough to knit proper socks (that is, not short socks, which I don’t like to wear).

I then weighed the two colours of wool separately and found that I had a bit more of the green than the grey, so I decided to knit green socks with grey cuffs, heels, and toes. Very cute, I thought. And the first one was, see:

Leftover sock 1 all finished and nice looking, and leftover sock 2 just before the heel with a deceptive amount of yarn still in the ball.

The thing is, I should have actually thought about the math a little. The amounts of yarn I had in green and grey were only different by about 20 grams, and together equaled a pair of socks. If I had thought about what this meant, I might have been able to foresee what would happen if I tried to actually knit socks that were almost entirely in one colour. You can see where this is going can’t you?

Sigh.

I got just past the heel in sock number 2 (not even entirely through the gusset! but I will say that knitting on a dock in Tobermory made me feel a little better) when I realized I was in trouble. I switched to grey, hoping to save enough of the green to the toe. I figured that this way, at least, the tops would match when I was wearing shoes/boots, and the feet would just look reversed if I was wearing pants and sock feet. Sadly, it just wasn’t meant to be.

These are perhaps the most ridiculous socks I have ever knit. What was I thinking? Why didn’t I stripe them? Clearly I knit with the philosophy that if I don’t acknowledge the yarn is running out, it won’t run out. That belief was dashed this weekend. Don’t get me wrong, these are warm socks knit in lovely wool, and they will keep my feet warm even if they are unforgivingly fraternal and clearly knit on the fly. I know this, but would it have been too much to ask for a little symmetry? It’s the stupid toe that really kills me.

Leftovers of the leftovers.

To take the edge off the disappointment I’m sure you’re all feeling on my behalf, enjoy some Tobermory photos. It was a glorious weekend with good friends, nonsense socks (which are ravelled here, if you’re interested) notwithstanding.

We stayed in a different cottage this time around. Here’s the view from the deck (I spent some lovely time knitting on that dock.)

It was overcast and grey on the second night, but as you can see, the first night more than made up for it. Spectacular, it was.

The rocks at Half-Way Log Dump (in the Bruce Peninsula National Park) are pretty fantastic.

You can’t quite tell, but the water is tropical to look at. Even though it was cold, because you can jump in I did a lot swimming. I love swimming.

Everyone is swatching for the weekend

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No? Just me? Oh. Well. I guess when you’re wrapped up in something it feels like everyone else is too. What am I swatching? Ah, glad you asked. (Also, I’m sorry if that title was an earworm for you. I’ve had that song stuck in my head ever since I heard Loverboy was somehow back on tour with Journey and Pat Benatar of all acts.)

So, first some business: if you are my sister or a friend getting married this fall, stop reading immediately and go find yourself some other entertainment. I love you both, but go away for now.

Anyway, where were we? Right, swatching. I actually hate swatching for things. When I have a new project in front of me, all I want to do it start in on it right away, and swatching seems like such a drag. But, when I’m making things to be given away, I swatch. (I didn’t actually swatch the baby sweater, due to time crunch, but it turned out pretty well anyway.)

Up first is Daphne, one of Cookie A.’s new sock patterns. I am in love. In love. I am going to knit these for my sister for Christmas, and I’m going to try and get them started now because I just want to feel like I’m being proactive. I’m going to knit them in Indigodragonfly Merino Silk 4 ply Sock, which is equal parts superwash merino and silk and very luxurious and smooth and soft and just the sort of yarn that will make my sister squeal when she opens them (I hope). Colourway: Don’t you have an elsewhere to be? (Cordelia). Man I love their colourways.

Swatched on 2.75 mm needles, for 8 stitches = 1 inch.

I don’t normally swatch socks because I knit so many, but there’s a lot of silk in this yarn and I just wanted to make sure it was going to behave like I thought it would. It totally does.

My other swatch project is for mittens, which will be a bridal gift for my friend who is getting married this fall. She has much smaller hands than I do, but it’s a lovely charted Norwegian pattern, so I can’t really fudge the stitch count. This is the reason I swatch, but also why I hate swatching. So far I’m on my third needle size, trying desperately to get gauge and failing. Somehow (and I’m not sure how), it makes no difference to this wool whether I knit with 2.5 mm or 2.75 mm needles. My gauge remains 18 stitches = 2 inches, which is exactly three stitches too many. Sigh. I’m on to 3.5 mm needles now, but I have a sneaking suspicion that will put me over, causing me to tear around Toronto looking for the illusive 3 mm dpn.

Swatch in progress. Grr.

BUT, that won’t be this weekend, because even though I’m swatching like mad, tomorrow L and I are heading back to Tobermory (to a different cottage) and I am bringing socks. Remember these?

Leftover socks! Still leftover, but almost done.

Yeah, they haven’t changed much.I’m about to divide for the heel on sock two, and I suspect that the 5-hour drive will go a long way to seeing them on their way to done. Since that will leave me with the rest of the weekend and the return drive, I am also bringing this (from my little shopping spree).

Fleece Artist BFL sock in Spruce. It’s a mix of dark green, dark blue, lighter green, and yellow. Should be interesting.

If it starts to stripe while I’m knitting the cuff, it might become Jaywalkers; if not, plain socks it is! I can’t wait to see how it knits up.

Tobermory weekend

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Last Thursday, L and I took off for a four-day weekend in Tobermory, on Ontario’s Georgian Bay (which is itself a bay on Lake Huron). Our good friend has a cottage there, and we consider ourselves very lucky to have been invited – trust me when I say it was very hard to make ourselves return to the city last night. We swam (it was cold!), kayaked, ate great food, hiked, played lots of games, and of course, I knit.

As often happens when you take a holiday, I now have a million things to catch up on, so here’s the weekend (more or less) in photos. I’ll write a proper post later this week.

Gin and tonic may be the ultimate cottage drink.

The shore in the evening.

Very strange rocks at the water’s edge.

Sunset, night 1.

Sunset, night 2.

Sunset, night 3.

This looks like the Caribbean, but I assure you it’s in Ontario, and that the water is freezing.

Oh yes, the knitting. This is Doublish by Alex Tinsley, and it’s going very well, if I do say so myself. More on that later.

Needless to say, the return to reality has been a little jarring.

Adventures in tea-drinking and shopping in Baku

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I’ve been back in Toronto for just over a week and I still haven’t managed to write about the last stop on my trip, Baku, capitol city of Azerbaijan. It also occurred to me that the Caucuses are not really an area ever covered in geography class, so if you’re curious about where I was, here’s a map:

We were in the trio of little countries to the left. (Source: University of Texas Library)

Anyway, Azerbaijan was really the only country we visited in which we didn’t leave the main city. We did spend an evening in my dad’s colleague Rafig’s dacha, on the north coast of the Apsheron Peninsula, but we were driven to and from, and although it was a wonderful evening of traditional food and traditional dancing (!), it wasn’t really sightseeing. So, Baku, then. What an incredibly beautiful city. It is right on the edge of the Caspian Sea and has been laid out to take advantage of its seaside local. There is a gorgeous wide pedestrian boulevard along the water that runs for kilometres uninterrupted and is always full of families, young couples, and school kids strolling around, eating in the many cafés or simply enjoying the view from one of the many benches. It’s all landscaped and filled with beautiful gardens and fountains and really, you could believe yourself on the Riviera.

I loved these dandelion-esque fountains.

The other restored area we wandered through in Baku’s downtown was the vast network of pedestrian shopping streets. Really, Baku feels strangely Parisian (although much cleaner), and its old buildings have been brilliantly restored in this area. The crime rate there is almost zero (the benefit of a totalitarian government, I guess) and I think a lot of the happy and carefree attitudes exhibited in the streets is because of this. Families are out at all hours with young kids playing happily and running around, and there isn’t a threat to be seen. It’s kind of incredible.

These grape vines are planted at street level and then trained up the wall to shade the upper balconies. You see this everywhere and I think it’s genius!

Baku also has a beautiful and immaculate old city. Unlike in Yerevan, where that just doesn’t exist, or even in Tbilisi, where they are working very hard to restore the Old City, in Baku, the buildings there have been wonderfully preserved. Many of the cellars and main-floors are now used to shops where you can buy all manner of Azeri-made textiles, pottery, and antiques. And I’ll be honest, I shopped. I didn’t buy much in either Georgia or Armenia, but since Baku was the last stop, and has some truly beautiful work, I treated myself a bit.

The Maiden Tower, which was built in the 12th century. From the top you get an amazing view of the city and sea, and the breeze is very much appreciated after climbing up the many, many airless steps.

This a tablecloth I bought, all beautifully woven out of camel wool and silk. The motif is called the flame, and it’s the national symbol of Azerbaijan – it’s on everything.

My parents bought this carpet. It’s 50 years old or so (meaning it was dyed with vegetable dyes, not acid-based ones) and made entirely of wool. We spent a whole morning carpet shopping, and it is quite the art.

Of course, we also ate and stuff. For the most part, Azeri cuisine is very similar to that of its neighbours. It was the hardest place for me to eat out in restaurants – for whatever reason, most of their dishes have meat in them and, since English is more limited here than elsewhere, it’s difficult to have any modifications made to the dishes. That being said, I did alright. Their bread is delicious and comes with every meal, and once I learned a few particular dishes (thanks largely to the meal we enjoyed with Rafig and his family), I was fine. The real treat, though, was the tea.

Azer Chay with strawberry jam. Delicious.

In Azerbaijan, they drink Azer Chay (literally Azeri Tea, but pronounced Azer Chai), and instead of serving it with milk and/or sugar, it comes with slices of lemon and a bowl of jam. Thus, when your tea has been poured, you had a slice of lemon and a spoonful or two of jam, which sweetens the tea. Their jam, though, isn’t like Smuckers or some other North American brand; it’s really more like a preserve, and the fruit is generally whole or in quarters, suspended in a thick, syrupy, liquid. It is delicious and very indulgent and I loved it.

I loved it so much I bought a box of tea and two jars of homemade jam to bring back with me. The jam that I bought came from the market, which is an entirely local affair situated in the opposite direction of anything that you could consider remotely touristy. My mum and I went up there to buy some food for dinner (my dad’s work is based out of Baku, so he has an apartment there). You can buy everything there. Just everything. Besides the jam, we also bought fruit leather (hugely popular in the region), fruit and veg, and two kinds of cheese. We could have kept right on shopping, but our bags were quite heavy.

There is a whole section of the market dedicated to dried fruits and spices.

Jars and jars and jars of preserves. These are much, much larger than the jars of homemade jam I bought.

In all, we had three and a half days in Baku before getting on the plane and heading home (for me, that was 26 hours door-to-door). It was an amazing way to end a two-week holiday, and you can bet I’ll go back if I have the chance.

Stripes on stripes: Colour Affection is finished

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I was going to wait, and blog about Baku before anything else (it was the last stop on my trip and I swear I’ll get something up about it in the next couple of days – it was gorgeous), but then I finished Colour Affection on the weekend and I’m just too pleased to wait.

Behold:

So summery. So soft. So stripy.

It really worked out so much better than I ever thought it would. As I mentioned, I started it just before I left because I hate casting on in public. I was only a few rows in, though, when I left for the airport. It was about 24 hours door-to-door on the way to Tbilisi, and although that included switching planes several times (and this lots of security lines), as well as, in theory, some sleeping, I still had lots of knitting time. By the time we got into Tbilisi, I was only a couple of rows shy of having the first two pattern sections finished.

I finished the two-stripe section in Tbilisi and began the three-stripe short-rows in the car to Yerevan, but then, I got sick and couldn’t do anything but sit with my eyes closed and try to sleep. I got through a couple of pattern repeats in the short-rows before I realized I’d made a mistake. Each repeat is six bands of colour (12 rows), and I had knit 24 rows before I decided my short rows were really looking too short and something must be up. I went back to the pattern and, sure enough, I was one stitch short. For the next 12 rows I knit the way Veera intended, and then I added another stitch to my short rows and carried on that way for the rest of the section, which I finished on the flight from London to Halifax. (From Halifax to Toronto, 24-hours into travelling, I couldn’t knit any more and instead just slept. It was glorious.) It then took me a week to finish the two-inch border, which I attribute to the fact that a) those border rows are stupidly long, and b) I was back in my real life, and had other things to do.

I bound off (using a 5 mm needle) on Saturday and then blocked it (I bought blocking wires for the occasion), and on Sunday, after going for a photo shoot/walk with L, I brought it to work, because my office is a fridge. I am quite pleased.

Inspection.

I have to say, though, that I am surprised by how much I like it. I was really worried there for a while. The thing is, when you start with dark colours, you get used to how that palette looks. I like the grey, I like the green, and together, they played of each other nicely. Then, when I got to the short rows and introduced the yellow, I felt like everything was suddenly off. Somehow, the nice greyish tones in the yellow disappeared, the subtly colour changes in the green were gone, and what I was left with was garish and, I thought, a little too tropical for my wardrobe. I was seriously afraid that after hours and hours and hours of knitting, I was never going to wear the thing. I couldn’t figure out how I’d gone so wrong – I mean, the colours had looked so nice all stacked up.

Thank goodness I persevered. That two-inch border at the bottom saved it for me. The trouble is, when you’re knitting top-down, it’s hard to see how it will all come together, and for most of the knitting, the dominant colour seems to be the one you started with (in my case, grey). In the end, though, the short-row stripes are stronger than the other sections, and the band of colour along the bottom balances everything out.

It was really hard to get the whole thing in, but here it is (can you imagine it with an extra 40-inches of length? It was be huge!).

Details
Pattern: Colour Affection by Veera Välimäki
Yarn: Tosh Sock in Charcoal and Candlewick, and Tanis Fiber Arts blue label fingering weight in Mallard (Aside: Tosh Sock is like butter, and I would knit with it forever is that was practical.)
Needles: 4mm addi turbos
Modifications: I listed them above, and it’s ravelled here (if you’re into that sort of thing). I’ll say also that I didn’t check my gauge because, well, how is a shawl not going to fit? Somehow, though, this means I’m about 40 inches shorter than I should be, according to the pattern (only 2 inches shallow, though). I have no idea how that’s possible, but there you go.

This was perfect, perfect travel knitting. The next time I have a big trip, I would absolutely consider knitting another one, or at least something similar. As a bonus, I have enough wool left over for a pair of multi-coloured socks, which might be fun to knit up in the winter, when I could use some bursts of bold colour. (Full disclosure: I never did start those Monkeys. I will soon, though.)

Touring Armenia

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Really, I could keep right on writing about Georgia, but I’ve been in Yerevan for three days and if I go back to Tbilisi now, I’ll never catch up because we’re leaving for Baku tomorrow. So, Armenia. We’re staying in Yerevan, the capital, where there isn’t really an “old city,” although there are many areas that are clearly Soviet in provenance. It’s a beautiful city, though, and downtown the streets are wide, with wide sidewalks lined with flowers boxes and shaded by large mature trees.

We arrived on Thursday, after driving six hours from Tbilisi, and unfortunately that drive coincided with me getting very sick, which made the entire day a wash (I did nothing by lie on the couch and sleep; it was very unpleasant). The following day my mum wasn’t feeling too well, so we took it pretty easy. We did walk down to Republic Square though, as well as buy a couple of little souvenirs from a local artist’s shop.

All the big important government buildings in Armenia seem to be made of this multi-coloured pink stone. (This one is on Republic Square.)

All of this is to say that yesterday was our first proper day, and we certainly made the most of it. In the morning we went to the vernissage, which is a huge market in the downtown where you can buy anything from antique dishes to jewelry to inlaid wood boxes to carpets to military memorabilia, among many, many other things. I bought a pair of handknit socks, but I’ll write about those later. My parents looked at many carpets, but because we’re going to Azerbaijan next, and Azerbaijan does not get on with Armenia, it would be impossible to buy something that large here and then take it with us to Baku. It’s a shame, because they’re lovely and really reasonably priced, but oh well.

Carpets were everywhere.

Also cameras…

… and military memorabilia such as uniforms and medals.

After that, we met with my dad’s colleague Artem and left Yerevan and headed south, toward Mount Ararat. Our first stop was Khor Virap, a monastery just on the Armenian side of the border with Turkey, at the bottom of Mount Ararat (the place where Noah’s Arc is supposed to have ended up).

If Mount Ararat hadn’t insisted on hiding behind storm clouds all afternoon, this picture would be much more spectacular.

The monastery is beautiful and, beyond its stunning setting, it’s also the place where Grigor Lusarovitch, the man who first introduced Christianity to Armenia in the 3rd century, was imprisoned in a well for 13 years by a king who did not want to be Christian. Like all stories, it’s really more complicated than that, but that’s what it boils down to. My dad and I actually climbed down into the well and although it isn’t deep, there are no windows and not much space – certainly not somewhere you’d want to spend years and years of your life.

Instead of a picture of my dad’s bum as he climbed out of the well, here’s a shot of the monastery from the rise on the right in the previous photo.

After Khor Virap Artem took us farther into the mountains (the Lesser Caucuses) to visit the Noravank monastery. Monks certainly knew how to pick breathtaking locations, but they were clearly not the practical type. Noravank is deep in the mountains and to get there you have to drive through a long and winding gorge with high rocky walls. It was kind of jaw dropping, to be honest.

The rocks really were this colour. The strata is also mostly vertical (instead of horizontal, which is what we’re used to seeing), so caves open up between the layers, creating large pockets in the cliff faces.

Outside the primary monastery building…

…and inside.

A second church (or chapel?) they managed to fit on the edge of the cliff.

(And, this is as far as I got before we went out for dinner. And then I packed. And then I went to bed because I had to get up at 3:30 a.m. to take a taxi back to Tbilisi so we could catch out plane to Baku. And then there was no wifi in our apartment, so this post has languished. I’ll finish it now, a whole week and two countries later.)

Our last day in Armenia was a kind of taking it easy day. Yerevan is the International City of the Book for 2012, so we visited the museum exhibit about Armenia’s history of printing (celebrating its 500th anniversary, which is pretty amazing) and wandered around a bit, picking up souvenirs and whatnot. The real highlight of the day, though, came before breakfast, when we climbed the Cascade.

700+ steps before breakfast? Heck yes!

If you think that looks like a lot of stairs to climb before breakfast, well, it was. But that’s fine, because it was totally worth it. The Cascade is preceded by a sculpture garden and is being privately funded as an arts and culture centre in Yerevan. Each of those central landings (with the rounded windows) has a gallery or concert hall or other artistic venue inside (there are escalators inside for those who prefer not to climb in their finery) and fountains or sculptures or both on the outside landing part. There are also boxwood-trimmed gardens lining the outsides of the steps, which, as far as I can tell, are made of limestone.

This is either the third or fourth landing, but I honestly cannot remember.

The white steps rise and rise and rise until all of a sudden they end in a chain-link fence at the top, beyond which is a construction site that has languished since 2009 or so. To continue up to the black platform (the base of the memorial to the Armenian genocide), you have to walk around and then climb more stairs. The plan is to connect the two, and I really hope it happens, because it is a spectacular monument. Also, there’s this view (watch that tallish building in the front):

From the second landing.

From the third landing.

From the top of the white steps.

From the very top, on the black platform.

This is the real reason we climbed it so early. Mount Ararat and Little Ararat get covered in clouds and obscured by haze quite quickly, and although evening is really the best time to go, morning is also good for clear views. We just managed to beat the clouds, but we climbed quickly when we saw them rolling in.

Afterwards we treated ourselves to breakfast on one of the many patio-in-a-park restaurants. Not too shabby.

Armenian “pancake” stuffed with cheese and mushrooms.