Sunday, December 30, 2012

Of Frozen Far-Flung Foragings and Cunning Cat Capers

Oh my, now I know what real cold is!

Let me hasten to reassure.  This is not West Cork.  This is nowhere near Ireland.  Just before Christmas we took a quick trip to Lithuania.  Right now it's cheaper to fly there than it is to take the train to Dublin.  Really!  And we so wanted to see something other than rain, sodden fields, rain, wet grass, rain, dripping trees.

And did we just about get that!  Dear heaven, I will never complain about what I considered cold days in Ireland again!  Many degrees below zero here in the main street of Vilnius, and a wind from Siberia via Belarus driving freezing, iron-hard ice crystals against your face.  Was extremely glad I'd brought my lined ski cap and cashmere cowl.  Needed both of them.  And more.

Here is another view of Vilnius by night.  It's beautiful.  Spectacular old buildings, onion domes, archways, wedding-cake Baroque splendour, and very little traffic.  (Well you wouldn't drive in that weather unless you had to.)

There were little stalls everywhere, selling hand-knit gloves, hats, and socks.  I liked these ones with cats on.  There appears to be a separate toe on the side of the foot there, or maybe a pouch for secreting small amounts of amber?  Because Lithuania is of course the home of amber.  Pretty well all the supplies for the legendary Amber Room in St Petersburg came from there, as I recall.

Caught a glimpse of this beautiful Aran-style jacket in the window of a linen shop (linen being Lithuania's other main export).  It looks for all the world like the one worn by Cameron Diaz in The Holiday.

Shop was shut at the time unfortunately, so couldn't check it out.

And there were even smaller establishments selling handknits too.

Elderly ladies like this one would come into town every morning early from their villages and set out their wares, socks and gloves knitted with loving care.  It was a long hard day in that freezing cold and bitter wind, but they kept their posts and even managed to smile for potential customers.  I'll remember her when the next Sock Madness starts and I'm whinging about not having exactly the right colourway or fibre.

I had a special mission on this trip, and it involved searching out the best yarn shop in all of Lithuania (naturally!)

This is Mezgimo Zona or the Crafty Place.  And thanks to Ravelry, I had a friend to meet there.

Virginija lives in Vilnius.  She's also on Ravelry (virginute) and her colourwork would make you ashamed to claim to be a knitter.

I had some commissions from friends for various yarns and Virginija guided me towards the right ones for mittens, lace shawls, and more.  And then we went for coffee and were able to talk about so many things.  My Lithuanian is practically non-existent but Virginija's English was, thankfully, far better, so I was able to find out what life was like before 1991 when they finally became independent.  It made me thoroughly ashamed of the way we complain in Ireland about weather and politics and annoyances generally.  Try living in Eastern Europe during Iron Curtain days and you might have more reason to complain.   But it really is marvellous to be able to exchange ideas and thoughts and ask questions in strange countries.  That way you make real contact.

I was even introduced to the best thrift store (a favourite occupation of mine in foreign cities) and Virginija pointed out that if I wanted nice leather buttons for a new knit (as I did) it was actually far cheaper to buy an entire coat and snip off the buttons than to go shopping for those expensive little items alone.  Which I did!  On that particular day, at a cost of all of one Lita (about 25c).  It was a truly hideous black and white tweed coat that had seen better days, but it had not only twelve beautiful black leather buttons but also twelve tiny flat ones, sewn on at the back.  And a buckle on the belt too.   (Yes, yes, the coat went back to the shop.  Nothing wasted, nothing thrown away.  'You learned to be very thrifty in Soviet times,' said Virginija soberly.  Rest of the world, take note and learn.)

We walked under the bare black branches of trees in the park and shivered to see the castle on the hill above with the wind and snow howling around it.  Rather grateful to be staying within the thick walls of an old nunnery (Domus Maria) rather than an ancient castle, however historic.  You could just imagine those tapestries flapping and the icy draughts caressing bare shoulders as the banquet progressed and the minstrels tried to keep their fingers warm enough to play.

These cheery birchwood elves look happy enough to be outdoors.  It's a nice idea and one I might copy myself next winter.  Wonder how they would take to endless mist and rain though?

Even getting back on the plane for the flight home was an endurance test.  You stood in that warm building and saw everyone in front of you donning coats, hats, gloves in preparation for the short walk across the tarmac.  'Is that really necessary?' I wondered out loud.  I soon found out! 

Absolutely adored Vilnius.  Glorious architecture, lovely people, delightful food (dined in this most atmospheric restaurant down in brick-lined cellars).  Its name, Lokys, means The Bear, and yes, there are still bears in Lithuania.  Next time, next time...

Back home it was all systems go for the Christmas rush.  This is the final result of the Advent Scarf KAL organised by Zemy on Ravelry.  The angora/merino was so cosy I was most reluctant to take it off to give to its intended recipient!  Every day of Advent brought a different Aran pattern so you had got plenty of practice in the technique by Christmas Eve.

And this is a little Norwegian-style cape for a small friend aged just 15 months.  Crochet is much quicker than knitting and I was able to get this whipped up in a few evenings. 

Sophy Wackles tried her best to help on a shorter neckwarmer-style Aran scarf in scarlet alpaca, but she still hasn't got the hang of cabling without an extra needle which makes her rather slow.  Never mind, slow and steady wins the race, doesn't it, Sophy?

Regrettably, the cats are more interested in the machinery than the manipulation.  The skein winder fascinated them both and now each morning they have a few energetic minutes turning it, just to flex up their paws.

They are both working hard for their Yarnslayer badges though, and hope to be able to wear these with pride in the New Year.

And finally, as a good wish for that same New Year, here is a picture to make you smile through the clearing up and the tidying away and the wondering what the future holds.

Wockin' Aroun' Da Cat-Mas Tree...


Anonymous said...

I read with great interest because Mother's college roommate was a 1st generation American from Lithuania. I fondly remember Borscht and black bread served in a Chicago apartment home of Mama and Papa Punishka.

Oh, I would be buying out the sock sellers...not that I need any more hand knit socks, just because of the cold and their dependency on selling their knitting. le sigh!

Merry Christmas to you and your fur babies.

JoAnn said...

What a lovely Christmas gift you've given us all with your post. But, as usual, you've saved the best for last! The first shot of Yarnslayer, jr, was worthy of Beatrix Potter, but the last shot... well, I'm speechless. Can I buy a print? Because life requires it.

Anonymous said...

Oh, lovely, lovely post, Jo! I'm with Meezer - I would have bought so many socks - and with JoAnn: who doesn't need a picture of dancing Podge?
-- Gretchen

Sally said...

Oh, Jo, you are such an amazing wordsmith. I feel as though I traveled with you to Lithuania....Pocket Travel is so fun, especially with someone like you! And Yarnslayer training looks to be right on schedule! Must have a copy of that picture...Thanks so much for sharing. Happy New Year to you and Richard!

Sea said...

The cape is beautiful. I used to see a Lituanian man and he was very appreciative of the handknits I made him. It is considered serious work in Lithuania, not just a passtime

LinDragon said...

What a lovely post, Jo. Lovely photos and story. Look at all that Amber! ( oh, envy). And Look at all that Yarn! ( topples over).
Lovely did I miss that KAL.
Clever Sophy.
Clever Yarnslayers. And what a happy Podge-dance!
Happy New Year.

Anonymous said...

Loved this delightful, cheery post! Every bit of it! Thanks for the glimpse into winter in Lithuania. I'm with JoAnn, I'd love a print of the last kitty picture!

Anonymous said...

PS What's the pattern for that Norwegian baby cape? Love it!!!

Unknown said...

Jo, your furry littlest is too cute for words in that "dance" shot!
A pattern for each day in Advent? Hmmmm. . . . The gears are turning. . . .
Merry 6th (or by now 7th?) Day of Christmas to you and yours!
- mtmom (Deborah)

Angeluna said...

So much to see..wonderful photos of Vilnius and Virginute's yarn shop. I forgot about finding amber there, wonderful stuff. Flying on a hot pink plane named would not inspire confidence.

Dear Sophy doesn't look like a natural born yarn-slayer, thank goodness. Polliwog & Podge are hilarious. Love that Podge seems to like sitting up in human fashion. Quite a little character. Is he still demanding food all the time?

lilymarlene said...

Loved reading this. Almost like going there myself....but warmer! I love armchair travel almost as much as the real thing. And I still get souvenirs!!!! (Thanks for my share of the yarn haul!)
Loved the old lady sock knitter....!

We have friends in East Germany who experienced life first hand behind the iron curtain....must have been similar to Lithuania. I asked her after about 5 years of capitalism whether life was better now. Interestingly she said it wasn't better, just different. In some ways before was better. She said she used to go shopping on a Friday with her little trolley to the one supermarket, with only one version of any commodity to buy. Her family were satisfied. Now she goes 3 or 4 times a week food shopping, with many supermarkets to choose from, and multiple choice of brands, and the family are never satisfied. There was at least something to be said for the simplicity of communism after all. Amazing comments when I see the difference between what they had when we first visited them (shared loo with other families for instance) and their living conditions now.

Love that last photo. Would love to see a video of her dancing!!!

lilysgrannie said...

Loved reading your post about travel to Lithuania. With a strong knitting tradition which is also very useful with such cold winters. Thank you for the arm chair travel to a place that I'll probably never visit with such beautiful photos. Happy New Year from California!

Mo said...

Happy New Year's Jo and your wonderful hubby, lovely Sophie and the new kittens!

Fifty-two pairs in 2012 said...

Wow - that's a unique vacation destination - but you Europeans are always on the go around the continent! Found your blog by googling "Top 100 KNitting Blogs". I loe yur projects. See you on Ravelry, I'm Rosie2m.

Fujiyamamama said...

It looks like a fantastic trip!

Anonymous said...

What a lovely post - travel, wool, history and cats (the last two shots are priceless). Lithuania sounds wonderful, cold or not... now I really, really want to go. Oh well...

KiniaCat Crafts said...

Thanks for the quick trip to Lithuania! {Brrr but lovely!!}
I stayed in an old nunnery on a nearby reservation here in Arizona a few years ago. It was a bit sparse, but comfortable and met our needs quite nicely!

Anonymous said...

Haven't read blogs for ages, but so glad I stopped by yours today. You and your family are so very lucky, esp. Tamsin, and adorable. That last picture ... Priceless. So many thanks and good wishes for 2013.

Lenka said...

Your story and impressions are really great and funny reading to me who I live in even colder country - Estonia. :) I was in Vilnius some years ago in autumn - it was warm and sunny and beautiful then.
PS The cats are sooo adorable.

Stephanie said...

I'm so really jealous of that trip. The snow I have, the rest? Dying to see it.