Thursday, September 29, 2011

Food porn

Going through photos of my recent travels, I realized there was a theme.  And that theme is food.  When I got off the airplane in Frankfurt a week ago, the first sight that greeted me was the familiar sandwich shop stocking up for breakfast.

I sat and watched them make sandwiches for the breakfast crowd.  Yes, I did say breakfast.  And these are not egg and sausage sandwiches.  Turkey, salami, cucumber, tomato, cheese, a slice of hard boiled egg, and just a little bit of European butter, which tastes more like cheese, on fabulous bread.  My favorite is the pumpkin seed wheat bread.  I am not much of a sandwich person except when I am in Europe.  This is my favorite breakfast--or snack--on the go when I am in this part of the world.  I buy a couple when I get off the plane or jump on a train, and I am happy.

And of course, no visit to Germany is complete without a visit to the local Bratwurst stand.  This on is the in Bremen city center plaza, and I must confess I stop by at least once per trip and buy a brat with hot mustard from these ladies for a simple dinner.

I also have to post some gratuitous pics of a wonderful bakery we visited in Montreal.  The Atwater market is one of the oldest in the city, and it has an assortment of gourmet delights that is hard to match.  So when I am lucky enough to be in that city, I try to stop by on my way out of town.  On this most recent trip, I brought a friend, and after a cheese and veggie buying spree, we stopped by the Atwater bakery.  Have you ever seen such artful desserts?  Each one is sheer perfection.

Even the vegetables are displayed artfully.

This is my kind of city!  Even the local ice cream shop seems a little classier than at home. 

Okay, now I promise to get back to the knitting.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

International yarn shopping

I cannot believe September has nearly come and gone.  I had a lot of travel lined up for September, so I figured this would mean a scad of knitting time.  When I got a good start on my asymmetrical cables in early August, I figured I would easily meet goal.  Instead, there I was, well into the Labor day weekend, and still not finished with the second sock.  My travels this month have taken me to LA, San Diego, San Francsico, then Germany and Switzerland.  My first week was pretty swamped with work, work, and more work.  But my second week, in San Francisco, I found myself with a free afternoon so I visited my two favorite spots: Napa Valley, and A Verb for Keeping Warm, not necesarily in that order.

I discovered AVFKW when I downloaded the marvellous sock pattern "Sin Miedo" which featured AVFKW's sock yarn, Creating.  About six months ago, I found the Berkeley store and bought up a couple of skeins, one of which I used for my AC socks.  I decided to swing by and see if something else sang to me.  While I was sorely tempted by some Habu silk and some Shibui silk superwash, I decided to save myself (and my credit card) for NYSW, which is coming up in a few weeks.  I did splurge on some olive oils and a wonderful wasabi mustard in Napa, so all in all, a successful afternoon.  I also managed, during my week in SanFran to finish my second AC sock. This gave me a chance to start another project that has been sitting for a while--a pair of flip flop socks for my 15-year-old niece, Taylor.  Sock one was finished somewhere over the Atlantic, and I even got a good start on the second sock.  I have had this skein of Fortissima Mexiko, purchased last winter in a Berlin department store, in my computer bag for ages, and it was great to finally use it up.  The pattern is based on "Cable my big toe", but the truth is, I looked at the picture, glanced at the instructions, and recreated it from memory as best I could.  I am hoping the proportions of the big toe vs. the four little toes is correct.  It seems to fit me, so hopefully I improvised well enough.

Even though there is only one in the shot,
trust me, there are two
The next part of my travels tool me to Switzerland via Frankfurt.  Now, I have been puzzling about something for quite some time.  All of my favorite yarn brands--Lang, ONline, Lana Grossa, Zitron--are German.  Yet, I have never found a good yarn store in Germany though I know they exist.  Since yarn tourism--that is finding a LYS wherever I am and shopping for unique finds--is my favorite travel pasttime, I did some research in the mere 20 hours I had between trips and mapped out a walking tour of yarn stores in downtown Frankfurt.  So I set out from my hotel with five shops on my list, a free morning, and a handful of Google maps.

First on my list was Lana, which I found with little difficulty.  This is a great shop, though very tiny, and the owner, Katia Lejeune, is a real kick.  Every spare inch of space is utilized, and Katia is always wearing something fabulous that she knitted herself.  She had the largest selection I have ever seen of Noro sock yarns, but sadly, no Zitron Unisono (I am hunting for a colorway I could not find for sale in the states) or Lang Jawoll Aktion.

A shopping plaza just up the street from Lana
My beautiful new cashmere
I left with two beautiful skeins of Lang premium cashmere as a consolation prize, but I did not have that feeling of satisfaction that you get when you find something truly wonderful.  Katia had a beautiful tank top made of the same yarn hanging in her window, and I bought enough for a very nice scarf in dark grey.  My next stop was Wolle Rodel.  This seemed to be more of a chain store, and most of the yarns were Rodel's own brand.  Very nice utilitarian yarns, but nothing spoke to me so I left emptyhanded, and still feeling a little underwhelmed.  I got lost on my way to store number 3, and the GPS in my cell phone was not funtioning, so I finally gave up and strolled through beautiful downtown Frankfurt while finding my way slowing back to my hotel.  It was an unbelievably beautful fall day, and I enjoyed the sights of the city as I made my way to the train station to catch a train to Basel.


I hopped my train, but sadly, rather than knitting, I had to spend my time finishing my talk for the next day.  I I hate it when procrastination cuts into my knitting time :)  Sadly, my busy work schedule did not allow for any shopping in Switzerland. 

Three days and most of the second sock later, I made my way to Bremen in northern Germany.  I had about 2 free hours Friday afternoon, so I decided to set out for one last chance at shopping.  Now, I have been visiting Bremen for 2-3 times per year for the past 5 years, but I had never yet found a good yarn store.  In truth, it may have had something to do with the fact that I plugged 'wool' rather than 'wolle' into google.  But this time, with help for a website I recently discovered,, I found a list of yarn stores in the area, and one was listed a mere 1.8 km from the town center.

My new favorite store in Bremen!

The main cathedral, or Dom, in the city center of Bremen

It was a beautiful fall day, and as I set out away from the beaten path, I discovered part of the city I had never seen before.  It was bright and vibrant, full of shops, restaurants and museums, and tucked in a little corner was Wolle + Mode.  And there I finally found the treasures I had been seeking.  The first was some Regia yarn from their world color series, in the colors of the German flag.  Could there be a more perfect souvenir from Germany?  Then sitting on the shelf above it was Camino Alpaca by Bremont.  I fell in love with this yarn at first sight, but I loved it even more when the shop owner explained to me that Bremont was a combination of the names Bremen and (something I did not quite understand), and that the yarn was produced a mere hour or so from Bremen.  I got even more excited when I check Ravelry and found that the only knitters listing Bremont in their stashes or projects purchased it in Germany, Austria, Norway or Finland. 

I feel like the first person to bring it across the Atlantic (though I know I could never make such a claim).  I was so entranced with Bremont that I also bought some Sara de Luxe, a gorgeous alpaca, silk, and cashmere blend.  Of course I had to pick up a couple of skeins of Lang sock yarn for good measure as well, even if it was not my beloved Aktion.  My good shopping buzz was almost spoiled when my credit card would not go through--many of the smaller shops have machines that will only accept European Union chip cards--but I scraped through my wallet and pooled every last Euro I had, and it was just enough to cover my yarn purchase.  The sweet owner of the shop even insisted on giving me four Euro back so I would have tram fare back to the hotel.  All in all, the most perfect tourist yarn shopping experience ever.

I spend the next hour making my way slowly to downtown, enjoying the sights along the way, and marvelling that after five years I had finally discovered a new part of Bremen.

The flip flop socks were finished shortly into my flight home the next day, so I eagerly started September project 3.  A new pair of STR socks, that I decided to improvise in a leaf-lace pattern in honor of fall.  But more on that later.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Oops, I did it again

So, how did I spend my August?  I continued work on my Asymmetrical cables socks, and I had a business trip to Montreal.  Montreal is one of my favorite cities.  It is beautiful, clean, has a fantastic shopping, and even better food.  It has a very European feel, with all the conveniences of North America. 

I brought a friend with me on the trip, and we had a great time sampling the local cuisine and taking in all the sights.  On our last night, as we were walking through Old Town window shopping, I glanced in a window and saw some really great pieces of art.  It turns out we had happened upon M Galerie d'arte, a wonderful amalgam of gift shop and art gallery.  The owner, Marie, rents out half of the space on a weekly basis to local artists who display their work, then she allows them to sell their work without taking a commission.  The exhibits change once a week, so there is a constant influx of wonderful work by local artists.

I loved what I was seeing, so Marie was kind enough to open up the gallery for me and let me walk around a bit.  As it turns out, the exhibit was set to open the following evening.  I absolutely fell in love with a set of four mixed-media works by Michele McSween.  They are called Origenes, Passage, Evolution, and Esperances, and they are absolutely perfect for the wall above my bed :)  I was so enthralled with them, that Marie called the artist to see if she might be willing to sell before the exhibit opened.  Much to my surprise, she agreed, so I left that night with four beautiful pieces of art having made a much larger impulse purchase than I ever planned on.

I swore before not to buy any more art (my walls are getting full!), but these were too great to pass up.  And, of course, what I like best is that they are one of a kind.  So please go to Michele's website and check out her incredible work.  And if you are ever in Montreal, please check out M Galerie d'arte!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Scarf lady

I have a tendency to fall in love easily. With places, that is, not people. I still remember my first affair--I was 14 and I left the US for the first time after my parents agreed to let me do a mini-study abroad trip to Mexico.  I remember stepping outside of our hotel the day we arrived in Mexico City and falling hard (figuratively, not literally). 

Eventually the strong feelings I had developed for Mexico City were replaced when after college some girlfriends and I decided to tour Europe by train carrying only 1 backpack apiece.  Those of you who know me will know how out of character it is for me to travel sans makeup or hair products.  Thought I had great flirtations on this trip with Paris, Munich, Bamberg, Prague, Venice, Milan, Florence, Rome, Madrid, Sevilla, Gibraltar, Granada and Toledo among others, it was Barcelona who truly captured my heart.  The coast, the restaurants, and the Gaudi structures--I was smitten for many years.

I was fortunate to find a job that fuels my love of travel, and I have found that when I fall hard for a new city, it is hard to resist bringing a piece of it home with me.  And that piece is usually in the form of artwork.  A few years back, and I had a business trip that left me stuck in Hong Kong for almost a month, and I promptly fell in love again, this time with the most amazing place I had ever seen.  It helped that I had plenty of time to explore with three full weekends and a very solicitous tour guide at my disposal, and I came home with some true treasures including a set of monochromatic paintings I adore.

At that point, I decided my walls were full, so when I fell in love with Berlin a couple of years later, I opted for a traditional Christmas pyrimid over a modern abstract painting.  Since that time when I feel I absolutely must bring back a momento of my latest infatuation, I try to find something a little non-traditional, and of course my A-#1 rule is that I absolutely must be in love with whatever I buy.

A few months ago, I was briefly reunited with my first love.  On my way to Venezuela, I had a short meeting in Mexico City, and as we drove through the streets, I reminisced about the last time I had been there.  Though time was short, I did have a few hours to shop in the international terminal of the airport.  And sure enough, I found the perfect recuerdo--a beautiful brightly-colored, hand-painted silk scarf from the design house Pinela-Covalin.The color and pattern reminded me at once of all that I loved the first time I "met" Mexico.

Last month, I found another pair of to-die-for scarves in Colombia.  This time by designer Ana-Cristina Bojanini.  Now the thing is, I am not a woman who wears many scarves.  And the ones I do wear are of the keep-you-warm-in-winter-knitted variety, not the cleverly-knotted-at-your-neck-as-an-accessory type.  Maybe I am looking for a change, and maybe I secretly hope to become the type of woman who does wear scarves.  Maybe wearable art is my latest trend.  Either way, look for my scarf collection to grow along with my art collection.