More Yarn Will Do The Trick

Friday, 30 November 2012

The medieval magic of Bruges - Part 3

Whilst walking to our hotel on our first day I spotted the most gorgeous pair of red boots. It was all I could do to drag myself away, but I didn't stop then as I thought it would be easy to find the shop again later on in our stay. Best laid plans, my quest for the red boots had us walking the same route three times before finally stumbling on it somewhere completely different from where I'd remembered it. Aarrgh!! Anyway by this time, exhausted and cold, I was relieved to find they had just the right size and they fit like a glove. Kismet!
These boots were made for walking...
Wrapped up well against the damp weather, we did a lot of walking along the pretty canals. Bruges is utterly charming, especially with its autumn glow - there's lots to see and no shortage of coffee shops to dive into when you're flagging.

Regal lion presides over this bridge

Pretty lace at many windows
It was just a delight to explore the backstreets and criss-cross the canals over the ancient bridges, in fact everywhere we looked was a perfect photo opportunity. The locals are obviously into interiors and we saw some interesting little touches along the way.
One very cold but pretty bear :(
Love this garland
Preparing for Hanukkah
You've probably been wondering by now if we found any yarn shops. And yes, we did find three but don't hold your breath. One was closed, one had a very limited selection and the other one, big and inviting just off one of the main squares, did have a larger selection mostly of novelty yarns. Unfortunately though, it had such a bad smell of fetid water from the canal that I felt sick and couldn't bear to be in there. So all in all, not a great yarn experience, but then again Bruges more than compensates for that with all the other treasures that you can find there.
This shop sells wool but mainly for needlepoint
This shop was closed
One of the great pleasures of the trip was visiting the Groeninge Museum, which is heaving with Flemish Primitives paintings from the 15th century. I don't have the slightest idea why they're called 'primitive' as to my mind they're anything but, their detail and colour is just dazzling. Apparently the school became famous in the artists' own lifetimes, largely because they were the first to use pigments mixed with linseed oil instead of egg yolk, making the colour much more vibrant and revolutionising art in the Middle Ages. Their depiction of textiles, rugs and hair is so realistic and intricate, that you feel you can almost touch them.
We also visited a couple of smaller museums on our travels and found some interesting sculptures in the streets along the way.
The Arendshuis Museum
Horse sculpture in front of small gallery
Not technically a sculpture but rather grand object
Groeninge Museum
Our last night in Bruges was magical. We had a scrumptious meal in a little cafe off one of the squares serving freshly cooked local food, then off to see our friend Lieven Tavernier, who was playing with An Pierlé & White Velvet at the Stadsschouwburg Theatre.  It was a fabulous evening, ending in the artists' bar where we were able to catch up with Lieven and the band over several Belgian beers.
Stadsshouwburg Theatre
Lieven and the band on stage
View of the theatre seen from the stage
The final bonus was to be able to view the theatre in its full glory from the stage - yet another work of art - and such a wonderful ending to our stay in Bruges.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

The medieval magic of Bruges - Part 2

We were up bright and early next morning for a big buffet breakfast of fruit, yogurt, toast and of course,  cheese - all washed down with several cups of Earl Grey. Doesn't sound very Flemish I know, not much different from what I normally eat, except for the cheese, but the ambiance was different, making  it all seem very European.
This one was advertising a knit expo
The streets were bustling with locals going to work, with a sprinkling of tourists taking photos and window shopping.  I felt immediately at home as, like York, Bruges is a city of many bikes, some of them beautiful works of folk art, adorned with flowers and found objects.
We quickly found ourselves in the Burg square, where the majestic Stadhuis (townhall) dominates  one whole side and more.  We were wondering why the square was full of vans and horses, with riders in medieval garb, and jumped to the conclusion it must be some sort of pageant.
Yours truly finding out more
However, it transpired that it was all part of the filming of The White Queen, a ten-part dramatisation of Philippa Gregory's book of the same name, starting next autumn in the UK. This epic saga tells the rich tale of love and loss, seduction and deception, betrayal and murder - so what's new? - through the lives of three dynamic yet different women, as they scheme and manipulate behind the scenes in their quest for power in the Wars of the Roses.
You could easily see why Bruges was chosen as the backdrop, with its enchanting turreted buildings and cobblestone squares - and ever more apparent when we went inside the Stadhuis, with its fabulous vaulted ceilings, gilded figures and wondrous paintings.
Pre-Raphaelite triptych in the Stadhuis
Inspiration everywhere, how many sweater designs can you spot in this?
Griffin doors
Vaulted ceiling
This is how I imagined a scene from The White Queen to be
When we walked across the Burg the next day, it was as if someone had waved a magic wand and in place of the BBC vans were those of the market traders.

The fish market
Local honey
By this time it had started to drizzle and P stopped to peruse a woolly hat stall, setting up in the Christmas market in the adjacent square.  The market didn't open for a couple of days, but we got chatting to the owner, and P fell in love with a felted wool hat and sure enough the deal was done. A stylish topper to keep the rain at bay.
Très suave, don't you think?
Final instalment includes yarn stores, glorious autumn colour along the canals, my fabulous new boots and our musical evening with friends at the Stadsschouwburg Theatre ... Don't go away!

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The medieval magic of Bruges - Part 1

Last Monday P and I set off early down to the smoke on the first leg of our three train journey to Bruges.  By ten o'clock we were at Kings Cross station, trundling our little cases across the road to St Pancras to present ourselves at the Eurostar check-in desk.  You can imagine the excitement as neither of us had travelled on Eurostar before. I can tell you we were not disappointed. Everything about this Anglo/French collaboration oozes style and comfort.

It takes just about as long to get from York to London as it does to get from London to Brussels - 2 hours each. I have to admit to being a bit of a baby when it comes to tunnels though. The idea of spending 25 minutes deep under the English Channel doesn't appeal to me at all, so I made sure the rescue remedy was readily to hand in the front pocket of my bag. As it happened I hardly noticed the time in the tunnel - it seemed to slip by seamlessly while we were eating our lunch and the next time I looked out the window we were speeding through the  moody and misty fields of Normandy. What a relief!
When we got off the train in Brussels the first thing we saw was this amazing chocolate express - even the tracks where cleverly sculpted out of Belgian chocolate. Fabulous welcome!  After snapping a few pics, we sped on to find the train to take us to our final destination in Bruges - 45 minutes on a double-decker. Only other time I've travelled on a double-decker train is in the States, as we don't have anything like this in the UK.
Canal by the station 
From a bridge on our walk to the hotel
On arrival in Bruges we had thought we'd get a cab to our hotel, but after waiting for twenty minutes with not one in sight, we set off to walk the three-quarters of a mile. We quickly realised that it was going to be a bumpy ride along the uneven but beautiful cobblestones, making us ever so thankful we travelled light.  
Next sweater design? 
However, the walk did give us a good idea of the layout as I tried to navigate the tiny medieval streets with my iphone. I have to admit I'm not a great map reader, so P was not at all confident we would end up at our hotel, but thankfully, after half an hour I proudly pointed it out at the end of the street.  Phew!

We were warmly welcomed by our friendly receptionist and took the lift to our room thinking what a lovely place it was. So when we set off to find some supper that evening, we were completely gobsmacked to find the most fantastic spiral staircase beckoning at the end of the corridor. Beautifully crafted out of oak and wrought iron, with a circular stained glass roof window at the top,  it just made you stop in your tracks -wow factor par excellence! Forget about the gym, if you can walk up and down a staircase as sylish as this, who would take the lift?
Little dragons - could almost be fossilised
chocolate? -  each holding up one oak step
Once we'd stopped marvelling at the staircase, we were quickly out and about in the city centre.  By this time everything was pitch black, lit by vintage street lamps,  twinkly lights, and the glorious shop windows. It's not for nothing that Bruges is known for having the best chocolatiers in Belgium! I especially liked the drunken snowmen, being apprehended by the snow policeman. 
All made from white, milk and dark chocolate!

Another chocolatier's window
The streets were chocka in the three main squares, but like Venice, once you turned into a side street, they were completely deserted, and sometimes even a tad eerie. But we soon got used to it and enjoyed an amusing diversion playing around projecting shapes from one of the bridges.

Everywhere you look is just magical - and that's even before the Christmas lights went up. This was happening on our final day there, but they hadn't been switched on  when we left. However,  if they're anything like the rest of Bruges, they'll be spectacular. Nothing is left to chance here, conservation at its best in what must be one of the finest medieval cities in the world.

P always likes a brisk pre-prandial walk and achieved it on this occasion by choosing an obscure Italian trattoria back in the direction of the station. I was ok with this as it's always nice if you can eat with the locals, but it quickly became obvious to us that the people of Bruges do not eat out on a Monday night, as there were only two other tables occupied. This didn't bother P as the food was fine, but I love people-watching, so bit of a let down for me in that respect.  However, wandering around did give us a chance to get our bearings and we were back at our hotel in no time - much quicker than the first time around.
The Markt
Other side of the Markt
By the time we got back we were more than ready for a good night's sleep, eagerly anticipating the fresh delights Bruges would be revealing to us in daylight.

Don't go away, there'll be more pics and posts anon covering the rest of our trip.
PS Don't miss the new free pattern on my website, Drift, a cool and cosy cowl to keep the winter blues away - easy knit for last minute gifts too!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Cold therapy

I've been decidedly under the weather this week. Some awful lurgy has been lurking, dodging and diving around my body like a sparring boxer, not declaring itself as a full-blown cold. Why am I always telling people to listen to their bodies yet don't do it myself? Yesterday was a relief when I started to sneeze and got the runny nose, by then I was beginning to think the aching limbs and head were flu. So I've been dosing myself with ginger, lemon and honey tea (just love it!) and sitting by the fire with the cats and my knitting. But the main thing is that I knock this cold on the head before next week...
... when Philip is taking me to Bruges for a late birthday treat. It'll be my first time on Eurostar  (woohoo!!!), and the icing on the cake is that our friend Lieven Tavernier is playing there with his band during our stay.
Beautiful Bruges
Funny how you meet people.  A couple of years ago Lieven happened to be cycling down the hill outside our home in Wales. We live in a remote part of Wales with few neighbours and it was a hot day. When Lieven saw P ambling up the road towards him with a barrowful of logs, he stopped to ask if there was anywhere he could get a drink. Cutting and collecting firewood is thirsty business, so P was more than ready for a cuppa or even a cool glass of beer, so he quickly said look no further, come and join us. Over several cups of Earl Grey in the garden, Lieven told us he was accompanying his wife who was the cook for a large Belgian brass band touring Wales and staying a few miles away on the coast.
As soon as I learnt that he was a musician too, out came my guitar and we had a great time chewing the fat and exchanging songs. It turned out that even tho it was many years since I was last in Belgium - in fact before my knitting career began and I was a full-time busker - there were quite a few people we'd known in common. I knew immediately that Lieven was a charismatic and accomplished performer. Since then he's sent us his two latest CDs which, despite being in Flemish and me being a woman who loves words, I love and play often - especially the latest, Witzand.

So next week promises to be an interesting one. Meanwhile it's Saturday night, P is coming home from Wales, lovely friends from Greece are coming for supper and I need to make some food. So more lemon tea and paracetamol methinks, and hopefully a jolly evening will be just what the doctor ordered to see this cold off once and for all.