Gosh Prague is gorgeous! It's the most enchanting place of tiny twisting cobbled streets, spires reaching skywards, a huddle of red roofs slipping down from the hill where the imposing St. Vitus Cathedral and the castle lord it over the town.
The Vltava sweeps majestically through the city, crossed by so many beautiful bridges. Charles Bridge is incredible and at this time of year it's misty and cold and not so jam packed as in high summer. Being pedestrianised, you can take your time and stop to wonder at the different vistas unfolding on both banks. I think my favourite time of all on Charles Bridge is dusk when the town is lighting up and people are silhouetted against the darkening sky.
We stayed in Mala Strane, the older part of town below the castle,in the medieval Golden Wheel, which has to be the best example of restoration and updating I have ever seen. Yes you had ultra-luxurious bathrooms, a lift, underfloor heating - but also the solidly thick stone walls, narrow staircases, original window mullions - full marks for whoever designed that bit of modernisation. We even had an original painted ceiling in our room, which the Glitz socks (they came along for the fun of the trip) enjoyed very much.
Incidentally, I like the way that Glitz yarn has concentrated there into a bright little lake of violet. I think it adds huge charm to the socks. I prefer that they don't stay in boringly organised stripes all the time. I must admit, though, within the secrecy of this weblog, that Glitz yarn, while unquestionably divine in the inventiveness of its colourways, is not (whisper it) actually the most comfortable of fibres to wear on one's feet. After going down to breakfast and back in these, I changed them for black woolly kneesocks. Pity. Look beautiful, feel not so good. Maybe it's the strand of glitter yarn in them. They're definitely not the socks for pounding over cobbles all day.
And there are plenty of cobbles in Prague. Mind you, when you get exhausted, there are many many compensations and temptations beckoning...
Not to mention the gloriously cosy little restaurants spilling their light out on to the pavement as dusk gives way to night. Rabbit roasted with rosemary, pork fillet with cheese and cranberries - oh yes, Angeluna, dumplings too, aplenty! - this Bohemian food is ribsticking and thoroughly satisfying in freezing winter weather. It didn't quite snow when we were there, but it had and it will. I'd love to see the city feathered in icy whiteness.
The shops are a constant temptation. I so wanted this marionette...
...but it certainly wasn't inexpensive and anyway I'd bought a glorious witch marionette a year or so ago when we were down in southern Bohemia (well I think it sounds nicer and more romantic than Czech Republic! And it's so Prisoner of Zenda too.)
All right, all right, to the serious part of the trip. I checked out two small yarn shops that All Tangled Up had mentioned on her weblog, but I agree with her: they really weren't up to anything - just a few balls on the side amongst far more in the way of ladies' underwear and woolly hats and things. But we did find Mar Len and that was rather good.
Most of the middle of the floor was taken up with bolts of fabric, but around the edges were shelves of yarn balls, plus lots of cones standing on the floor. I have to say these aren't particularly cheap - mostly about what I'd have to pay in the UK or Ireland for a cone when I am lucky enough to find it - but they were definitely different.
What I noticed here - and please contribute anyone else who's been to the Czech Republic - was that many of the types on offer in ball form were actually combinations of several different finer ones. A fine tape, a strand of glitter, two or three fingering weight wools in different shades, all wound into one thick strand with a knot at the end to stop it going all over the place. It made some superb colour blends with very happy effects, but once I'd sussed that, I started hunting through the cones again (many of which were out of sight, out of mind, pushed against the wall underneath the shelves, behind bags of ball yarns) to see if I could find the component parts. Had some good luck.
And here they are (or at least those from my first raid on Mar Len - what do you think, of course I went back the next day before we flew out, once I'd had a night to lie awake and think about those cones), sitting on the window of our room. You can see the steep street outside, and a little brightly-lit shop.
On the left is a cone of very fine glitter in silver and green, with a silver tape next to it. In front are two balls of a fine red tape. On the right are four balls of the blend type I was telling you about. You can see from the strand in front that there are at least four separate threads in there and in fact I think there are some very fine ones too - about six in all. Why did I buy four? Well, I thought I'd make a vest in them while studying their construction.
The best thing is that I got some very good ideas for new designer yarns while I was at Mar Len. But it did get me wondering - just who exactly is spinning fibre these days? I know that several yarn houses simply import fancy types from somewhere like Turkey and put their own labels on; and indeed we have one Irish company particularly culpable in this respect. Is Mar Len not a spinning factory as I had been led to believe, but somewhere that blends yarns from elsewhere into new combinations? That's OK I suppose as long as we know. I did notice that most if not all of the cones came originally from Italy, whether their contents did or not. And surely they spin yarn in Italy? They certainly do in France, at that wonderful place down in Orange - I can't remember the name. Oh yes I do - Pierre Loye et Cie - they make (genuflect) Anny Blatt and Bouton d'Or. You can see the transit from sheep to yarn through dye to cone there. Anybody got any contacts at Italian factories? I'm looking up flights...
And I got DH to take a couple of special images just and only for you.
This spinning one was on a gate at St. Vitus Cathedral. I imagine it's modern work but what a delight to see craftsmen still making things like this.
And this was a tiny clay doll in a glass case in a museum of toys. See the ball of wool at her feet and the miniscule needles?
Oh Prague was lovely and we had a marvellous time. A two hour delay at the airport on the way back, and a frighteningly bumpy ride (no sympathy, I imagine, from those of you in the UK suffering blocked roads and closed airports due to the snow at the moment - keep warm girls) didn't diminish its utter charm. I'm going back soon. In the meantime, I'm going to try a few new designer blends of yarn. Heaven knows I have enough to work with!