All About the Food

Last week I was in Thailand on a business trip.  Before you get the idea that it’s fun to travel for work, let me tell you that, when you arrive, have to adjust to the time zone, are only there during working days without a weekend to go sight-seeing, it’s really just work.

I have incredibly nice colleagues in Thailand, and because I don’t drive there (NO WAY am I going to try driving in that chaos!), and there is no canteen at this facility, they take me (and any other foreign visitors) out to lunch every day.  What a treat!

We have everything from expensive (relatively) sushi, to the famous 1 euro lunch – both are delicious.  I tried to take photos at every meal, but sometimes just forgot.  Below are the food photos from last week.  Thai people like their food, and for very good reason. It’s the best cuisine I have ever tried.

My favorite lunch of the week was this fish and noodle soup.  It was not terribly hot spicy, but was full of amazing flavors that I can’t list here because I don’t know what they were. There were pieces of veg in the soup that I’d never eaten before.  Just delicious.

We went out together one night for dinner.  Along with all the good food, the last was the best.  Simple, fresh mango in slices, with sweet sticky rice on the side with coconut milk to pour over.  I have never in my life had mango that tasted this good.  So THIS is what a mango is supposed to taste like!  Ah!

And here are some other pics from the week.  I don’t know when I’ll be going back to Thailand.  Probably later this year.  DB has to come too next time.  I’ll save up my appetite!

Road Trip

Next Saturday I’m making the long train trip to this event.  I’m very tempted to go by car, because I have a new car, but N. has convinced me that we should go by train so we can knit.  Knitting trumps driving a new car.

I’m not sure if there will be a lot of knitters that I know going to this event.  It’s pretty far away.  It’s going to take us 3 hours by train to get there (only a little over 2 hours by car however).  Dutch people think that traveling an hour to go somewhere is already a big deal.

The event is held in a “manege” or horse arena.  It will be cold.  It will be full of people and wool so I hope that we heat the place up with our enthusiasm and woolliness.  I’m hoping to find some really nice local yarn (which is a new thing actually) and some interesting sheep breed specific yarns.

If you live in the Netherlands, or northern Germany, or even northern England, make a fun day trip out of this and come along.  It’s good to support our local wool!

Elephants

I started a new job in September.  The company I work for has offices and manufacturing facilities all over the world.  Since September I’ve been to Paris, Los Angeles and two cities in Thailand – Bangkok and Chiang Mai (the factory is actually in Lamphun, 30 minutes from Chiang Mai).  When I organized the trip to Thailand I made sure I had a weekend free so I could see a little bit of the country.  When you fly in on a Monday and work every day, you don’t see anything except highway, cars, hotel and work facilities.  I had never been to Thailand before.  Actually the only place in Asia I’d been was to Singapore and that was only for 2 days as layovers on the way to and from New Zealand.

Honestly, I was a little nervous traveling to Thailand on my own.  I was new and hadn’t met any of my colleagues there yet either.  All new and unknown.  By the end of the 9 days, I felt really comfortable and at ease and confident.  My Dutch colleague, HJ, calls Thailand “Asia-Lite” because it’s a very easy place for westerners to travel in.  Easy for him to say!  It was still a little scary for me.

My colleagues are incredibly nice and helpful and took great care of me.  I had lunch with them in local lunch spots and dinner at the best Japanese restaurant in Chiang Mai.  They made sure I had rides where and when I needed.  I hope next time I won’t be such a burden and can be more independent.  I loved touring the factories and seeing how people work.  I love factories in general anyway – stuff is really happening there!  Stuff is being MADE.  I’m a maker at heart – any kind of making I get excited and interested.

Anyway, the point of this blog post is to tell you about the elephants!  Before I left for Thailand, DB bought me a travel book.  I needed to find out what I could do on my free weekend.  I found a day trip to an elephant park.  Not just any park.  This is an Elephant Nature Reserve.  Elephants roam around free.  They form their own family groups.  They are not ridden or forced to perform stupid tricks for tourists.  Some are rescued from terrible circumstances and some were born on the park.  The center was started by an amazing woman named Lek Chailert.  They have a FB page of course.  Their web site is here.  You can book a trip in advance if you like.

On Saturday morning a van arrived at my hotel to pick me up.  I was the last on the route and there were already 8 others in the van.  We drove the 2 hours to the park and watched a short movie about the park while en route.  We got there around 10am which was feeding time.  All the tourists (there were probably 75 of us there on this day) were shy and hesitant.  The tour guides showed us what to do and how to feed them.  The elephants receive 60% of their food from humans and the rest they forage for themselves.

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Here’s our guide, and just some of the food that is prepared for the elephants.

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After feeding time we took a walk out into the meadow to a small group of females and a baby.  The baby was was about 9 months old.  One of the nannies is very old (60-70 years old) and the other nanny was injured in a logging accident and walks with a very bad limp.  Logging with elephants was only outlawed in the 1990’s in Thailand.  The practice continues in Cambodia and Myanmar.

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We were able to walk right up to them and touch them and talk to them.  It was pretty amazing.  We also walked by the little hospital they have there where they treat elephants from the whole area.  This is an elephant tooth.

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And this is an 80 year old elephant.

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After walking around a while it was time for lunch.  They set out long tables of hot food for all of us – very tasty.  I have to say, my tour group was not very social.  There were 4 couples and me and each couple really kept to themselves.  At other tables people were talking together and sharing travel stories.  Oh well.  I concentrated on the elephants.  I asked the tour guide lots of questions.

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After lunch it was bath time.  We went down to the river and elephants joined us.  Not all of the elephants are allowed to come to the river with us.  One family group is super protective of their baby and get a little crazy in the water when strangers are around.  Another family group has a 3 month old baby and no one is allowed to get near enough to touch them as they are extremely protective and the baby is too young to interact safely with people.  All completely understandable.

We splashed around, throwing water on the elephants to clean old dirt off them.  Of course after the bath they head to the dirt and mud area and cover themselves again, which is what they are supposed to do.  The dirt keeps them free of bugs and sunburn.

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After we washed some of the elephants, the family group that keeps to themselves came down to the river and we had to go up to the sky walk to be safe and keep them safe too.  After we watched them in the water, they all came walking towards the main building, where we were standing, and hung around like they were posing for photos.  In the end we were able to mingle with them and we all got used to each other.
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The only elephant we really had to look out for was the Naughty Boy.  He’s just a teenager and like all teenage boys he likes to stir up trouble.  Everyone scatters when he comes around.  He’s not that big yet, however, even a small elephant running at full force can knock you down and cause you serious physical damage.

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Here’s a photo of Lek with her elephants. There was also a guy with a big movie camera making a documentary for the Discovery Channel.  I’ll have to look out for that on tv!
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It was soon time for feeding again.  And then late in the afternoon we went to see the 3 month old baby, his mother and 2 nannies.  The nannie on the left had half her right rear foot blown off when she stepped on a land mine while logging in Cambodia.  The baby is so adorable.

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I made some short movies during the day.  It’s here on youtube.  If you watch to the end, you will see this family group with the 3 month old baby.  The nanny with the blown off foot is on the left of the screen.  You will see her thumping the ground with her trunk.  Only once do you hear it really well.  What an amazing sound!  And watch the baby try to imitate her!

You are welcome to look at all my photos here on flickr.

All in all, it was a great day.  It’s surprising to me how much of that day has stayed with me.  It had a big impact.  I want to go back.  I want to take DB there.  I encourage anyone who likes to travel or plans to travel to Thailand to go there and not go to the places where you can ride elephants.  We drove past one of those places and could see the elephants chained to cement pads waiting to be ridden around the roads.  This is not how an elephant should live.  And if you can’t get there but would like to help Lek save elephants (and water buffalo and other animals in Thailand and greater Asia), please donate to her organization.  She’s the real deal.

Of Windmills and Color

Yesterday G. and I rode our bikes to the Zaanse Schans to buy dyes for dyeing yarn and fabric.  It was a glorious day!

I suggested going to the windmill De Kat to buy these dyes because I knew the weather would be nice.  G. suggested going by bike, which made me gulp and exclaim “bike!?”.  I’d never biked that far in my life and was a little nervous about it.  Silly me.  It was great.

We met part way there because she lives in Amsterdam and me in Haarlem.  We met at bike route point #11, which is where one of the many ferries takes cars and bikes across the North Sea Canal.  She had mapped the whole thing out using “Fiets!” app, which also has a web site where you can see your routes and upload and download them.  Luckily, here in NL, the country is crisscrossed by numbered and marked bike routes.  My route yesterday was this:

We biked through small towns and past fields of sheep and ponds with ducks and geese.  We got a little bit lost in Zaandam because there wasn’t a sign where we should have made a left turn.  It’s times like that that I’m happy to have GPS on my phone!  We were soon back on course.  We biked past not one, but TWO chocolate factories which smelled so strong it was almost (but not quite) sickening.  We can smell the chocolate in Amsterdam and Haarlem when the wind is right.

G. couldn’t believe I’d never been to Zaanse Schans before.  I live with a Dutchman.  Why would he want to relive his school trips with me?  I feel bad that I didn’t go there with my mom when she was here.  I just didn’t know how nice it was.  And how close to home.

We only went to the one windmill, De Kat, because we were on a mission to buy dyeing stuff, and because we didn’t want to get home too late in the afternoon.  There were tourists, but it wasn’t super crowded.  We climbed up the stairs to the middle layer of the mill, where the works are inside and the walkway is outside.

There’s a small gift shop and we asked where we would buy the dyes.  The woman said “oh you have to get Piet to take you to the back room”.  Piet was dressed in traditional clothes, including wooden shoes, and carried his bone pipe with him.   He took us through the door marked “Private”, into a fantastic room filled with magic powders.

Nearly all of the products they sell are for making your own paints.  Only a very small part of it, just one “bookcase” was for fabric and wool dyes.  That’s ok.  It’s enough for us to play with!  Isn’t this a fantastic place?

G. wanted a photo with Piet to send to her mom.  Here it is.  Very sweet.

I bought more stuff than I was planning on buying.  I couldn’t resist.  I bought cochineal which is very expensive.  I’ve never dyed with it before so I’m looking forward to playing with that.  Logwood, which I have used before.  Fustic and woad, which are new to me.  I also bought some chemicals for mordants and modifiers – alum and iron and potash.  I was looking for copper for a modifier, but they didn’t have it and I suspect you can’t buy it anymore because it is dangerous to use.  Just as well I couldn’t get it.  I also bought a sweet little book of recipes which included bits of yarn as samples.

We had a quick sandwich in the area and hopped back on our bikes to head home.  G. left me at Zaandam to head to Amsterdam and I pedaled back the way I had come.  I have to say, by the time I reached the ferry I was pooped!  Still 8km to go.  When I was on the ferry you could see in the distance a big cruise ship coming up the canal heading for Amsterdam.  I stopped on the other side and took a few photos of it.  I wanted to include the boat watchers.  I found it really funny that people would drive to this point, get out their chairs and picnic stuff and hang out watching boats come and go on the canal.  Plane spotters and train spotters and now boat spotters.  Takes all kinds.

I biked 40km (24 miles) in total yesterday.  When I got home at around 3pm I put my head under the kitchen faucet and ran cold water.  The farthest I’d ever biked before was 20km to the beach and back.  This was twice as far.  I felt really tired but really good.  Today my legs feel tired, but not sore and not nearly as bad as I was expecting.  I even went to knit night last night in Amsterdam and BIKED to the train station!

I complain a lot lately about getting older and how my body is changing.  I don’t like it.  Not at all.  Getting old sucks.  Pains popping up where there weren’t any last week.  Swollen fingers and sleepless nights.  And then I go for a bike ride like this and I count my blessing over and over again.  I’m so happy I can do this.  Getting old sucks, but getting old in style is pretty ok.

p.s. If you want to know how to change the direction that a windmill is facing, you can find out HERE.

Best Kept Secret – the secret it out!

We spent this past weekend at Best Kept Secret Festival in Beekse Bergen, just outside Tilburg. Three days of music, camping, sun, rain, food, friends, fun. This was the first year of this festival. We were all guinea pigs, but willing participants in this experiment. What’s it like to go to the inaugural year of a festival? In this case, fantastic. The organizers have had years of seeing how other festivals are organized and have taken the best of the best and tried to bring it all together on the beach of a manmade lake.

The festival web site is showing photos and clips from the event, and you can also see a lot on the 3voor12 web site. And a nice short movie that captures the event feeling very well here.

The Camping

We got to the campground early. It opened at 10am and we were there at 11am. As you can see, we thought we’d found paradise and were ready for a quiet camping experience like no other festival ever.

Four hours later, and the scenery had changed quite a bit. It became just like any other festival camping with people crammed in, tent stake to tent stake. Ah well.

At least they had thought of everything at the camping, with a camp store, plenty of showers and toilets, phone charging station, and hot cooked breakfasts available. We were usually up very early compared to everyone else (being old people you know) and didn’t have to wait in long lines for anything. Early bird gets the worm.

Friday night, however, was pretty sleepless. I’ve never in all my festival going years heard so much partying and screaming all night long. I think this was because there was no place on the festival grounds itself for people to party all night if they wanted to, so they did it in the campground instead. Bummer. It really sucked to go to the second day of the festival without much sleep.

Saturday night was marginally quieter, but I also took a sleeping pill and had my earplugs in, and that was the Best Slept Secret for me.

Food

Food is important at a festival. At least it is for me. I appreciate having decent food choices when you are a captive audience. LowLands is famous for great food. Into The Great Wide Open also had really good food. I think this is the trend for festivals in the Netherlands since this festival also made sure to have the best festival food possible. Gourmet burgers, big BBQ’s with whole chickens and pigs on a spit, vegetarian and organic food and excellent coffee bars. K. and I decided to go into business with coffee and cakes since there were such long lines at the coffee bars. In our dreams anyway. Absolutely nothing bad to say about the food here. Only compliments to the organization.

Festival Grounds

You wouldn’t think that it’s so important to mention here, but it is, because something happened at this festival that is unique and fantastic – it was CLEAN! No trash anywhere. People put their trash in the bins. Grounds people were everywhere picking up what didn’t make it into the bins. It was such a nice change from the trash pit that other festival grounds become after only one day. This made the whole thing much more enjoyable. We aren’t toddlers who can’t pick up after ourselves. We’re adults and we should just pick our crap up. Somehow at this festival it happened. I have a theory about this, and it’s really a theory that goes for any environment where people live. We don’t actually like living poorly. If a standard is set in the first 5 minutes of coming into some surroundings, those standards will be maintained by people. Thus, if you enter an area and it’s a garbage pit, you will throw down your trash like everyone else. And the reverse is also true. If you see a place is clean, you are likely to also keep it clean. The organizers certainly made the right decisions to give us a super festival grounds.

OK, now that I’ve said the good part, here are some tips for next year to make it even better. First, MORE TOILETS! They put out more places for men to pee after the first day when there weren’t enough and men were peeing in the woods everywhere. Solved. What about the women? The queues for the toilets were just crazy long, all the time. More toilets please!

Second, tent TWO needs to be sorted out. It was too small for some of the bands playing there. We were inside when Alt-J was playing and were so packed in that it became scary full. People started to become aggressive. We left, but getting out was not fun or easy. We saw fights nearly start. The problem is that there is no space around the outside of the tent to just hang out and still hear the music. For example, at LowLands, outside Alpha you can sit on the grass on 3 sides of the tent, which hundreds of people do. That wasn’t possible at tent TWO. OK, the rain didn’t help, but still, there needs to be more space around the stage and tent for more people. Or just make the tent itself twice as large (and keep the ticket sales the same). Also, I found the acoustics at TWO pretty bad. I read that some people didn’t think it was loud enough. It was plenty loud, but just badly set up. Far too much echo and bouncing sound everywhere.

Shopping

Festivals have to make money every way possible and shopping is another way. At BKS there was very limited shopping and I was just THRILLED to see that they had set up a row of Etsy shops! What a fantastic idea. Totally non-commercial and fun and interesting stuff for sale. I bought a little wallet made of tape measures. I bought it on Friday and went back through there Sunday and that shop was gone. I hope they sold out. Also, on Saturday between the camping and festival grounds there were tables set up by independent record labels and record shops selling vinyl and CDs by artists you are not likely to hear on the radio. Great idea.

Fashion

There are always fashion trends at these events. Several years ago I made a little movie about the trend of the year at LowLands. This year? No movie, just photos, of girls in cut off jeans and black tights. OMG. Whoever said this was fashionable was just plain wrong. And all the girls who blindly do as they are told are just plain silly.

Fashion that’s trending up but not yet mainstream? Men with long hair wearing it up in a knot. It’s coming. Look out.

Weather

Unfortunately, the weather has a part to play in festivals. We had typical Dutch weather this weekend – a little bit of everything – sun, wind, rain, clouds. You’ve seen some photos with sun, now here are a couple of good rain photos.

You can’t do much about the weather, so let’s just move on….

Music

Finally, the music. This is why we came, right? Right. The festival advertises itself as focusing on the music (no art installations, no movies or discussion groups, no street acts) and that it did. There were 3 stages in total. It’s a small festival and it was easy to get from one stage to the next in time to see what you wanted to see. The only time it felt crowded and full was Saturday night, but was still manageable.

Here are my picks of the weekend.

Best Boys to Keep Your Eye On – Mozes and the FirstBorn – These local guys had lots of energy and charisma and catchy tunes, all sung in English. We will be able to say “we saw them way back in 2013” some day after they make it big. The lead singer looks scarily like a young David Crosby. He also had skills.

Most Improved – tied with Bloc Party and Alt-J. Both of these bands I’ve seen before, live and live streamed, and both gave much better performances than ever before. Alt-J with a full rich sound and singing on key! Wow! Bloc Party with more energy and fantastic drummer. Too bad that Alt-J was at tent TWO instead of the main stage ONE. The should have been at ONE. It was hard to really enjoy the music when you’re busy coping with such crowds of people.

Most Surprising – Damian Rice. It amazes me that one man on a big stage with a guitar and piano can hold the attention of thousands at a festival. He did. While I thought he was going to be boring and weepy, we were actually spellbound by his voice and stories. Now I’d love to see him in a smaller venue too. I’m a new fan.

Best all round – how can you pick just one? I can’t, so my 4-way tie goes to Maccabees, Balthazar, Fuck Buttons and Suuns.

Balthazar we’ve been following since first seeing them at LowLands (I think it was 5 years ago) and we’ve seen them 5 times now. Every time they are better and better. They have a huge following in this part of the world. They are from Belgium and there were a lot of Belgians at this festival. They always play “Blood Like Wine” as their last song. It’s a thing. The last lines of the song go …”raise your glass to the nighttime….” and all the people in the audience knew it was coming so we had our glasses ready. Here’s a photo I took of everyone raising their glasses and singing along. They took a photo too from the stage and posted it on their facebook page.

So, in summary, we’ll be back next year, if we can get tickets. Crisis, what crisis? Festivals and events sell out here in minutes. We tried to get tickets to ITGWO for this year and didn’t get any. Sold out in 10 minutes. I imagine this festival will go the same way. I hope the organizers can find a way to sell tickets fairly and nicely so fans get tickets and not scalpers and bulk buyers. We will do our best to do it all again. We’re all getting older though and I think next year a group of us will try to rent vacation houses on the site rather than camp out. We need more sleep to keep up with all the bands we want to see!

(All my photos on flickr)

Estonia

It seems like ages ago that I was in Estonia, but it was actually just a month ago.  I don’t know where the time goes.  I do realize that I’m a terrible travel writer if a whole month has gone by and I still haven’t written about this trip.  I have uploaded 488 photos to flickr but haven’t put names or labels to them, nor have I edited any of them.  It is such a daunting task! Maybe you will enjoy them in their raw uploadedness.  I had a hard time deciding what the header image for this post should be, but finally decided that this one captures the trip for me – knitting, wool, outdoors, rustic and natural, friendly and fun.  This photo was taken at the yearly Heimtali Fair.

I went to Estonia to participate in the International Conference: Traditional Knitted Sweaters around the Baltic Sea.  When I say “participate” I really mean be there and watch and listen and learn.  It was not a big event.  I’m guessing only about 200 – 250 people attended.  Those who gave presentations were from Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia and the Shetland Islands.  There were people in the audience, like our little group, from the Netherlands, German, Denmark, and I think Latvia.  I felt privileged to be there among these dedicated, serious scholars and artists.  There were of course those who came who weren’t so serious, and just enjoyed being at the event.

I have so many photos of lovely Estonia, but I will leave you to look through them on flickr (see link above) and will just show you one or two photos of each part of the trip.  Keep it short and sweet.

J. and I traveled together and arrived in Tallinn Wednesday before the event.  The weather was cool but sunny and we walked around the Old Town.  It’s beautiful and extremely well maintained, in a sort of Disney-ish way, but still it is a working city center.  There are foreign consulates here, and museums, and offices in these old buildings.  They do cater to the tourist (huge cruise ships dock each day, spewing out tourists with cameras around their necks), but in the evenings when the tourists have gone back to their cruise ship, the locals come out to party in the pubs.

Dutch Embassy

On Thursday all the travelers who needed a ride from Tallinn to the event in Viljandi met up to get on the tour bus organized for us.  There were the other Dutchies, plus some others from Sweden, Norway and Finland.  We drove through the lovely countryside for two hours and then were dropped off at our accommodation.  Everything was so well organized!  Buses were always waiting for us at the right time to get us to the right place, all during the 3 day event.  It was flawless and took all the stress out of travel in a foreign country.

J & I stayed in the place farthest away from the town, in little houses in the woods.  It was charming and perfect.

We barely had time to drop our bags and grab a bite to eat (above photo) when we were hustled onto the bus, back to town, for the fashion show.  This was a show put on by the Viljandi Culture Academy students.  There were more than 50 students modeling their work, walking the runway to music that was also pretty amazing.  It was live streamed that evening too!  At this Academy students study textiles, woodworking or metalworking.  It was so impressive.

I took loads of photos, but from my angle sitting on the floor, they just don’t do the show justice.  HERE are some of the professional photos taken that night.  Since it was live streamed I was hoping to find a video of it somewhere so you could hear the music and see how they danced down the runway, but alas, I can’t find one anywhere.

After the show we walked to a small museum in the town and had dinner outside.  Just us and the mosquitos.

The next morning we were taken by bus to a building on the main street that had an auditorium – main stage with the room below filled with chairs.  The day was spent watching and listening to experts talk about the history of knitted sweaters in their country.  They were historians and artists, known for their research and writing.  It made me sad that I don’t come from a place with such deep traditions in fiber arts.  Even my adopted country has scant to show for knitting traditions.  We have a few fisherman’s sweaters and hats, which we most likely copied from our neighbors further north.  But the Scandinavians and Baltic cousins!  They are not only rich in history, but they also continue to value these skills and knowledge and support it so it will continue.  In the U.S., if it don’t turn a profit, it ain’t worth saving, and therefore much of value is lost and forgotten.

Friday night we had dinner in what was built as a German Baron’s summer house.  It is now a school building, in yet another school for traditional arts outside of Viljandi.  We were also entertained by traditional Estonian musicians.

The conference has been held in Estonia for the past 3 years.  It will now move to Finland for the next 3 years.  This was officially announced after dinner.  There was also a handing over of a very long knitted piece, the story behind which was kind of explained, but went a little past me.  I think you had to be in the In Crowd to know what that was about.

When we got back to our little cabin in the woods on Friday evening, our neighbors from Norway invited us to sit outside and drink some wine for a while.  What a nice night that was!  It was Norway’s National Day so they were ready to celebrate and sing songs and eat and drink.

The next morning we packed up and loaded up in the bus, heading to Heimtali Fair and Museum.  First we heard a short talk by Anu Raud and saw slides of her work, then there were talks by our presenters about where their inspiration comes from.  I wish I had been able to see Anu Raud’s work in person – her murals look amazing – but they are currently in a museum in another town.

After these talks we were free to wander around the small fair, spend some money, eat some lunch, and watch the walking knitting tag team competition!

There were lots of tables with things for sale made from wood, metal, and lots and lots of wool.  Later on there were dances by little girls in costumes.  As you can see, the sun was shining and it was so hot we searched for shade to sit in.  I did buy some yarn here.  I couldn’t resist.  It was such a bargain!  A sweater’s worth of yarn for less than 15 euros!

The afternoon came all too soon and we piled back onto the bus and headed back north to Tallinn.  J and I spent the night there and visited the Old Town again on Sunday – out last chance to shop and look around.  We visited a shop that we had heard about over the weekend.  We met the mother of the woman who designs all the clothing in this shop.  This photo isn’t the designer (she was sick) but this shop keeper was so friendly and helpful even when we didn’t buy anything.  They also had a bicycle covered in knitting in the big front window.  Who could resist going in?

And that was Estonia in a nutshell!  It was a wonderful trip and I’d really like to go back again.  The people are all very friendly, it’s beautiful, the food was excellent in the restaurants we went to, and the prices are much much cheaper than Amsterdam.  We were lucky with the weather too – while it was cold and awful in Amsterdam, it was warm and sunny here.  That and all the knitting – kind of a little paradise.

California – Part III

While we were in California we went to Santa Cruz for the day.  It was well planned out ahead of time.  Actually months in advance!  Santa Cruz is the home of the Yarniacs, whose podcast I’ve been listening to for some time.  Back in March I contacted them to see if we could possibly meet up in May.  I got a resounding “yes!” answer so we planned a date and time.

I actually can’t remember the last time I had been to Santa Cruz.  When I was a kid we used to make the 2 hour drive there once in a while, probably to escape the heat of the Valley for the cool ocean breezes on the coast.  When I was in high school, the marching band took part in a yearly competition there and we hung out on the beach waiting for the judging results to be announced.  Can you imagine the coastline above crowded with thousands of teenagers?  I can’t either anymore.  It was glorious at the time.

Mom, DB and I left the house at about 7:30 in the morning to get to the Swift Stitch shop in time for our meet up.  The shop actually doesn’t open til 11 but Sharlene opened early just for us.  Soon Gayle showed up, along with Ien and oops, two others whose  names I’ve forgotten.  It was a fantastic meet up!  We talked yarn and patterns and knitting and design.  We had some show and tell.  My mom went off to shop and DB went for a walk to the beach.  Even so, 2 hours just flew by and I thought I’d best leave before my traveling partners got too restless and bored.  Here are some photos from the meet up.

Notice the lovely brioche shawl hanging there?  I smiled to see one of Nancy’s designs on display.  Did I buy anything?  What a silly question.  Of course I bought something.  How could I not in such a shop?  I bought 6 skeins of Madelinetosh and 1 skein of Zitron which DB picked out himself for socks.  I think I was rather restrained to only get that much!  It’s a great shop and I really recommend it if you are anywhere near the area.  And of course go listen to the Yarniacs!

We left there and drove to the pier.  I didn’t remember being able to drive all the way out to the end of the pier, but you can and we did.  We had lunch and watched the sea lions sunning themselves at the base of the pier.

They make such a racket too!

Then we headed over to the Boardwalk.  Mom and I especially wanted to see the Merry-Go-Round or Carousel.  It was built in 1911 and is now a National Historical Landmark.  It’s still beautiful and kids still like to ride it and reach for the ring.  I did the same when I was a kid.

And then I ran down to the water to put my toes into the Pacific.  I had to.  No photos of that though.  Trust me.  It was cold.

That was our trip to Santa Cruz!  I like Santa Cruz.  DB likes it a lot.  He actually said he could live there, which he’s never said about any other American town or city.  All we need to do now is win the lottery and we’ll be there.

California, Part I

Ah, to be enjoying the California sun again!  We spent 2 weeks in California and the weather was glorious.  These 2 California Sea Lions were hanging out in the Pacific, just off the Santa Cruz pier.  There was a large herd of them, lounging on the side of the pier on landings kept just for them.  They barked and yammered, jostling for the best positions.  More on Santa Cruz later in the story….

We stayed with my mom most of the time we were there, taking some side trips out and about.  We had only spent two nights at her house when we headed north to Chico, to spend 3 days with my niece and her husband.  He works at Sierra Nevada Brewery and we got a special family tour around the place.

in the hop room

We hung out at M&J’s house, went out to eat, and had our own version of “Bargain Hunt” at one of the many antique shops in Chico.

I really like Chico.  It’s a college town, big enough to be interesting and small enough to be cozy and charming.  It’s even easy to walk and bike around town, which is unusual in the U.S.  We left there already missing M&J.

Only a few days later, M drove down to meet us and we headed up to the Sierra Nevada, to Yosemite National Park, to have Sunday Brunch at the Ahwahnee Hotel.  What a treat!  It’s a big spread with fresh oysters and other shell fish, several kinds of salmon,  prime rib, egg dishes, chicken dishes, pancakes, cheese blintzes, and then there’s the dessert table.

DB took our photo at our table.

The Ahwahnee itself is an amazingly beautiful building, build in the 1920’s of stone and wood.  When I win the lottery I’m going to stay there for a couple of weeks.

We played tourists, rode around in the free shuttle bus, taking photos here and there.

Yosemite Falls
Selfy at Curry Village parking lot, Half Dome in the distance

We did a little walking around the Visitor’s Center and went into the Indian Museum where I saw some amazing woven baskets.  I wish I had taken photos of them but it was a bit dark for that.

It was a quick trip to Yosemite Valley and then back home to Atwater.  Last year, in June, we did a full day of hiking, which I really loved and I’m sure we’ll do again next year.  It had been at least 25 years since the first and only other time I had a meal at the Ahwahnee and I’m really glad we made the trip this year.

Well, I think that’s it for this blog post.  I’m only half way through the California trip, and still have lots to tell you about Estonia, but it’s clear that this story telling is going to take several days and several blog posts. Come back for more photos and travel tales!

…And…We’re Back

After being away from home for 3 weeks (except for a short day in between trips), it’s taking me a while to get everything organized at home and back in some kind of normal order. I’m still doing piles of laundry and sorting through piles of photos. Today I’m fighting with the “new” Flickr and still haven’t managed to upload my 400+ photos from my travels.

The photo above was taken in my mom’s garden. She has lots of beautiful flowers with birds and bees and butterflies zooming around through the plants. We had fantastic weather the 2 weeks we were there. It was so nice to get warmed up from the never ending winter in the Netherlands.

While in sunny CA we went to Chico to see my niece and her husband, to Yosemite National Park for Sunday Brunch at the Awahnee Hotel, and to Santa Cruz to meet some knitting friends and put my toes in the cold Pacific waters. Of course all during this time I was busy knitting away on my “Twice Born” shawl that is part of Mad May on Ravelry.  I have photos of all these events, but you’ll have to be patient. I’m trying to be patient with flickr.

I also spent 5 glorious days in Estonia for a conference on Traditional Knitted Sweaters Around the Baltic Sea. This was a fantastic experience that was over far too quickly. The weather was perfect, the people so friendly, the knitting and handwork beautiful and inspiring. Add good music and food and you have a little bit of perfection in 5 days. I would love to go back to Estonia to see more and learn more. Of course I have hundreds of photos of this event, but you’ll have to hold on and be satisfied with just this one, that I’ve taken from J.’s FB page.

I’m heading back to flickr now to see how things are progressing with my photo uploads.  More exciting stories and photos will be posted here in a day or so.

Hurry Up and Wait

(backdated to 21 January 2013; written 26 January 2013)

Monday morning, still cold in Berlin and now lightly snowing.  We’ve checked the flight schedules and the only flights canceled are heading to Paris.  It’s still early.  Anything could happen.

After cramming everything into our meager carry on luggage and stowing it at the hotel reception, we head back into the center of Berlin for one last look around.  DB had never seen the Reichstag or the Brandenburg Gate so that’s where we went, via the UBahn.  I had to take this photo, just for the U2 sign.

I had been here 12 years ago with my parents.  That was pre-9/11 and security was light and not noticeable.  Now if you want to visit the inside of this building you have to sign up in advance and go through a separate security building first.  We didn’t know that and so didn’t go inside.  I’m glad we did those 12 years ago.  I have a really nice photo I took inside the glass dome on top – I’ll have to go find it on a CD somewhere.

You can see how cold and windy it was.  No time to hang around.  We then walked to the Brandenburg gate, just a block away.  Yes, it is tall.

It’s very impressive.  As DB said, when you see buildings and monuments in Berlin, you realize how small and cozy the Netherlands is.  We are a speck in comparison.  Oh, that will lead to a whole other blog post I’m sure.

We still had a lot of time to kill before heading to the airport so I suggested we walk down Unter den Linden towards the Berlin Dom. I was feeling nostalgic.  This is where I went with my parents those many years ago.  It was green and sunny then.  At that time, just like now, there was building construction going on everywhere.  I sometimes complain that Amsterdam seems to be continually under construction and it is annoying and makes for a stressful environment in a city.  It’s nothing compared to Berlin.  They have so many years of destruction to make up for.

Finally we made it to the Dom and went inside.  We walked around and I took photos.  It was pretty quiet – not so many tourists this time of year.  We followed the tour route to the upper levels, finally walking around the base of the dome itself, looking out the little windows at the top.  Here are some photos.

The little museum that explains the history of the Dom is very interesting.  I also found the crypt interesting, with caskets from the 16th century and caskets of German kings and queens.

And then it was time to leave.  We walked a bit further to Alexander Platz and took S and U Bahns to get back to the hotel, collect our belongings and then back on the S Bahn to the airport.  We discovered that our flight was still planned on time and all systems were go.

That is, until an hour before the flight was to leave.  Then we were delayed by 30 minutes.  Then we were told to go to a gate where we stood around for nearly an hour waiting for the inbound plane to arrive!  Why we were packed into a small room before the inbound flight had even gotten to Berlin is a mystery.  They obviously know when the plane will arrive – it’s not out there circling around for the fun of torturing passengers.

Our flight was supposed to leave at 6pm and finally at 7pm we boarded the plane.  And THEN we were told that there was a problem with the navigation display and an engineer was working on fixing it.  There we sat for another 30 minutes.  And after that was fixed we were told that the plane was iced up and had to wait in a queue to be de-iced.  Well, I’m all in favor of de-icing so didn’t complain about that.  In the end, we took off from Berlin just before 9pm.  You know what that means, right?  Right!  More knitting time!  I got a lot done on my sock during this delay.  Photos to come.

Just to add insult to injury (a handy phrase given to use by Shakespeare), when we got to Schiphol, we faced train delays.  We were lucky to get the trains we got and finally got home at 11pm.  Phew!  What a day!  From the Reichstag in the snow and cold, to my warm and cozy bed.  Very tired and happy to be home.

I have more Berlin photos in a Set on Flickr if you are interested.  You can find them here.