I'd better warn the faint of heart right from the beginning that the end of this blog is truly terrifying. Cocooned in your sheltered safe little knitting world, you may not know that there are threats and risks out there which could endanger the very heart of your home - that is, your closely-guarded and treasured stash. Free-floating, entirely random threats which could strike at any moment, when you least expect it. For you, gentle ones, read on if you will, but only to the 'BUT'. For the serenity of your own minds, I don't recommend that you discover the fate of my beloved yarns and projects. It's better you don't know.
The more hardened among you, of course, can take it on the chin, and may even be able to rally round with words of comfort and good advice. Experience may, perhaps, be able to soften the crushing blow under which Celtic Memory currently lies writhing in mental agony. Perhaps.
But the happier portion first. Lots to tell you about of gift packages received from lovely friends, new ideas tried out, projects progressing. They, however, will have to wait for the next posting. You know how it is, when one major idea is possessing your mind, heart, soul, that's what you have to write about, or die in the attempt. So here goes with the Tale of the Trip To Northernmost Europe.
DH had long yearned to visit the natural home of the white-tailed sea-eagle. Well you do, don't you. Recently Ireland has been experimenting with their re-introduction here (they feature in our ancient poems and literature and we know jolly well they used to inhabit our sea cliffs and mountains, but they died out over the centuries). We have one or two pairs gifted from Norway who are currently trying to adjust to the Kerry climate and learn the language. But in the meantime, DH thought it would be wonderful to see them in their normal habitat. Which is the fjords and northern coastline of Norway. Very far north. We had to fly (by degrees) to Ivalo, the northernmost airport in Finland, and then drive on, on, on, over the border into Norway and up to the remote region of Varangerfjord, where you can peek at Russia just across the narrow strait of the Barent Sea.
Do you know what the most wonderful thing is about blogging and Ravelry? It's arriving in a strange northern town in the freezing wind and rain late in the afternoon and finding a friend running towards you with open arms for a warm hug.
Magaki had come to welcome us to her home town of Vadsoe. We'd been messaging briefly since I had known about the northern trip, and one text on arrival brought her right out to show me where the yarn shops were! Howzabout that for Ravelry comradeship?
I think I like Norway a lot. A small town like Vadsoe boasts not just one but two superb yarn shops. You can probably see pictures of one of them at least on Magaki's blog, since she goes to SnB there every week. Oh the yarns! Tons of gorgeous Norwegian labels, and also - and ALSO - some rare finds in the shape of Estonian hand-dyed laceweight (steady there at the back, no heart-attacks), and sockweight or worsted, I'm not sure which (you'll find out why later). Had a wonderful time. DH in the meantime was having the time of his life around the harbour, photographing eider duck with all their little furballs, rising and falling on the icy waves.
Eider very sensibly care for their offspring in creches, some parents going off to feed while others guard the little ones from predatory gulls and skuas.
Varangerfjord is a world all its own, a world of dramatic indented coastlines and craggy cliffs, tiny battered fishing villages and wild limitless skies. Often you can see echoes of a busier past, of whaling, fishing, people who lived and worked and survived in this demanding climate all year round not just on summer weekends.
There are echoes of far earlier times too: this area has been inhabited for thousands of years, and each millennium has left its records, even if we haven't learned to read them correctly as yet.
This is Ekkeroy, on a day when the clouds cleared and the sun made everything sparkle. It's so remote up there, so far away from cities and crowds and hurry and bustle and industry that you feel calmer just for breathing that tangy sea air. That just might be the Russian coastline across the bay but probably not - I think you have to be up high on a really really clear day to see it.
And this is one of my new favourite places in the whole world, Hamningberg, right at the end of the road. The end of Northern Europe. No more roads beyond this. The narrow track stops here. And it's only open May or June to September, when the snow has melted sufficiently. In winter, forget it. Those little windswept houses hunkering down there have sod roofs to aid with insulation, and weathered grey clapboard sides. The wind was so cold up here it took your breath away. Thought I'd planned ahead with silk thermals but this nor-easter just chuckled and went right through me, not bothering to turn aside for something as pathetic as Irish skin and bone.
Fortunately there was a cafe. A lovely snug little cafe, warm with the scent of fresh baking. Lovely practical people the Norwegians. I could work on my red Koigu socks while waiting for the apple pie to come out of the oven. They had little vases of herbs on the counter rather than flowers (most of those weren't out yet, come on, it's only late June after all), among which I saw nettles and another called (I think) sea cabbage, both of which are, I was told, excellent herbs. I knew about nettles of course, but not the sea cabbage. Never saw nettles as a display before, but how nice they looked.
Reindeer were everywhere, whether individuals crossing the road
herds wandering the seashore or sunning themselves on the shoreline (very strange to see reindeer by the sea, somehow)
or mothers and babies crossing the snowy slopes of the mountains.
How about the knitting, you ask? Well of course there was knitting. Knitting with warm wool really REALLY comes into its own in these chilly places. Suddenly I could see the need for thick cabled sweaters, hats, luxuriously long scarves. But, since I have joined Summer of Socks, socks it was.
Socks were knitted by raging torrents, fed by melting snow -
on weatherbeaten wharves by old warehouses -
and perhaps best of all, on the old straight track, probably the original route out along this fjord, which runs close to the main road. Wandering here on a sunny morning, warm enough to shed one layer of jackets (but not quite balmy enough to doff the woolly hat), with the scent of new heather and the song of newly-arrived birds all around was one of those moments in time that stay with you forever. You know the kind, when for that little while absolutely every worry disappears and you are completely happy just to be there.
All good things come to an end and we had to turn for home. One more quick meeting with Magaki in Vadsoe where she and her DH brought a picnic basket and gave us wonderful coffee and utterly delectable cake out on the headland from where many Polar expeditions set off.
Here we are performing the ritual comparison of socks - mine on the left are a fairly pedestrian pair of cabled in Claudia's Handpaint, and Magaki's on the right are a beautiful pair of Dominos - you can see them on her blog.
On our way south, a brief stop at Tana Bru gave the chance for a happy meeting with Aurora, another lovely Norwegian blogger and Raveler, who lives up at Batsfjord, a good drive from Tana Bru, but she took the trouble to come and meet me.
Here we are comparing socks -she's working on the current pattern from Six Sox Knitalong (hey, I'm in that too, better get going) in dramatic black and white, while I am showing her DH's grey socks in progress. And she even brought me a big ball of Norwegian sock wool too, in a lovely dark blue. How nice was that? AND she and her DH bought us coffee. What a warm generous people they are up in this part of the world.
BUT (and here is the point where the faint of heart should quit reading and return to their knitting - sometimes innocence is the best protection), the tale does not end happily. Or at least (trying to force an optimism I don't feel) it hasn't yet. We drove the long road back to Ivalo. We packed, emptied the car. We took the flight next morning (to the tiny airport of Kittila, to the big HUGE airport of Helsinki, on to Amsterdam. Where we stood at the carousel and waited for one bright yellow hard-shell suitcase to arrive. Which it didn't. And where I stood in queue for an hour with many many other stressed travellers to report its loss. (Dear heaven there are times when you are very very grateful for at least one sock to knit on - the single grey on an inoffensive lightweight circular that could get through security. If I hadn't had that sock to knit on, there would have been a riot at Amsterdam and I'd be in a Dutch jail right now, where you probably don't even have Internet access.) And where we had, perforce, to board our flight for Cork later that night, minus said bright yellow suitcase.
WHICH HAD IN IT ALL MY TRIP STASH PLUS THREE IN-PROGRESS SOCKS. (DH can be heard faintly in the background here, pointing out that it also contained his much-loved tripod plus numerous electronic accessories dear to the heart of any professional photographer, but we'll ignore that as irrelevant. Oh it also contained clothes, but who cares about clothes when yarn is involved?) That exquisite handpainted Estonian laceweight. Those skeins of ditto ditto worsted or sockweight I can't remember which and I would be only too delighted to be able to lay my hands on them to TELL you. Just as bad, and maybe worse because it's more personal, two lovely red Koigu socks in progress and one grey Norwegian cabled sock in progress. All on Addi Turbo Laceweight circulars! (I think three exclamation marks would not be overdoing it here, but academic training dies hard.)
We came home. Cork Airport reassured us that the second the bag arrived they'd ring. 'Don't worry at all now, sure 'twill be here before ye've woken up tomorrow morning.'
Rang next morning. No bag. Rang Amsterdam. 'Yes, it has been sent.' Oh good. So why isn't it here then? A pregnant pause while they checked, and Celtic Memory's heart tried to slow down. 'Ah yes, I have the record here. It went to London Heathrow (WHERE? WHY, FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE?) and will come on to you with American Airlines. '
Oh-oh! That sounds pretty bad. For one thing, London Heathrow is the Black Hole of Calcutta where lost luggage is concerned. (If you don't believe me, check out the disaster they had on the opening of Terminal 5) And secondly, and rather more worryingly, just how do they imagine that American Airlines might be thinking of flying into Cork?
I mean - let's put it this way. Cork is an adorable airport. I love it to bits. It is the most welcoming, the most relaxed, the friendliest one I know. Everybody from passport-checker to marketing manager is a friend. It has a huge heart. But it doesn't exactly have a body to match. It's - do you say spatially challenged? Vertically challenged? Look, it's a TINY AIRPORT, right? You can see the full length of the runway in all its glory in the picture below (thanks Richard, that was short notice but you came up with the goods from your files, what a gem!)The thought of a transatlantic jumbo trying to fit itself onto the tarmac there is daft.
(Mind you there was one occasion when a transatlantic jumbo jet did just that. Land at Cork Airport, I mean. There was a crisis at Shannon, and it had to come to Cork. The runway was emptied, the emergency services were on full alert, and every viewing point was jammed with eager Corkonians who had heard about this on the radio and had come rushing up to see the once-in-a-lifetime event. The huge plane was heard in the distance. It approached. It made a gigantic and ponderous circle, presumably while the pilot looked down and said 'You mean there? You want me to land there? That's not a runway, that's a garden path for heaven's sake!' Then it began its approach. Tentatively, cautiously, as slowly as it could. It came lower and lower and at last touched down at the very first possible inch of tarmac. Rolling forward, you could hear every possible braking option being applied. One imagines the pilot was muttering, 'Get me out of this and so help me I'll never fly the Irish route again.' At last, heartstoppingly, it came to a standstill, one and three quarter inches from the end of the runway, a weed-choked rusty iron gate, and the inquiring eyes of Paddy Murphy's prize cow looking calmly into those of the pilot. A great day indeed, and one to remember.)
That digression was by way of demonstrating that Amsterdam might well have thought American Airlines could dump off my yellow suitcase en route to more exciting destinations, but it thought wrong. Oh heck! (That was not exactly the phrase used, but it will serve for the delicate ears of readers.)
That was on Tuesday. This is Friday. Somewhere out there, a forlorn yellow suitcase is waiting, wondering what has happened, why it isn't home telling of its adventures. Inside are (OK, OK, DH, your tripod and electronic bitsies, OK), that rare Estonian yarn, my poor socks, my Addi Turbos, and Aurora's gift yarn. Where, oh where is it? In the bowels of Heathrow, never to be seen again, like the Ark of the Covenant at the end of the Indiana Jones movie? Still in northern Finland? Gone boating on the canals in Amsterdam?
WHERE IS MY YARN? Don't they know what traumas like this can do? I WANT MY ESTONIAN YARN! I WANT MY ADDI TURBOS! I WANT MY SOCKS!
Oh yes. DH did get to see the sea eagles.