Friday, August 28, 2009

Hold Fast! Tartan Socks

Tartan Argyle SockAll this time I have been quietly knitting away on the Tartan Argyle Socks.

Aren't I sneaky?

Here I spring the first one on you, mostly formed.

What you are looking at is the leg and the top of the instep. So red cuff, leg, then the hourglass shaped portion is the gusset decreases. I'm heading for the toes.

I am not following the normal argyle flow of working the leg and instep, then heel flap, gusset decreases, sole until it matches the instep, and then toe in the round.

That method involved an awful lot of seam sewing.

Instead I'm giving Elizabeth Zimmerman's Moccasin Socks a whirl. She has you work leg and instep. But then you continue on through some funky toe shaping, pick up along the sides of the instep, and knit in the round down to the sole of the foot.

As far as I can tell, the only sewing should be the back of the leg and the bottom of the sole.

I have one more row in pattern to work, then I'm going to work even until the toe shaping. In the pattern she gives inches to aim for, but I'm like, "Uh, how do you know it will fit properly?" because the fabric has to stretch around your foot.

I'm probably a little fit shy because of the way the Pirate Arrgyles didn't look like they would fit until I was able to sew the side foot seams. After I sewed the seams they were able to stretch properly around my foot and give me a better idea of how the fabric was going to move around.

Well, thinking of the Pirate Arrgyles made me realize I had the perfect guides available. I'm using the same yarn and pattern, after all. So I counted the foot to toe rows on them and I'll work the Tartans to match.

Once again being too clever for my own good, I bet.

Cotton Baby Sweater and Hat Update
My Cousin X posted a picture of Baby M wearing the hat I made on Facebook. It's very exciting to see that it fits. She says they love the set. No picture of the sweater as it is still too big since I made the 18 month size and the baby is only around 4 weeks.

So nice when hand knit stuff is properly received.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Done: Scrappy Socks 1 RB

Scrappy socks RB doneWow, I was down with a doozy of a headache the last two days. Not fun at all. Guess I shouldn't have taunted my migraines in that last blog post.

The one good thing was I'm not on any close deadlines at work this week, so I was able to call in sick for both days and not have to worry about it.

Of course, I wasn't feeling so very bad that I couldn't knit! (The pain does come and go, after all.)

I finished my first set of scrappy socks last night.

As you can see, I ended up going with the ruffled anklets.

Trust me, that's a ruffle on there. I swear.

After working the heel, I was able to work about 15 rows before the red yarn ran out. I switched to the blue and kept an eye on the rapidly dwindling balls.

I worked even in stockinette to 25 rows, then I switched to ribbing. It had already occurred to me that a ruffle was probably in my future.

The balls continued to decrease rapidly. To make matters worse they weren't the same size.

Maybe it was the migraine talking, but I said to myself, "Do you really want to do all that knitting only to have them end up a goofy length, which will force you to rip back and knit a ruffle anyway?"

So after row 30 I knit front and back around. The worked two rows even and cast off.

The ruffle is heavy enough that it takes the ribbing with it when it flops over. I suppose this means I should have worked more rows of ribbing. Really, five rows of ribbing, who was I kidding?

I'm debating pulling out the ruffle and extending them. But you and I both know that isn't going to happen.

Lazy? Me?

In the end though, I'm pleased with them. I'm wearing them today with jeans. As soon as I finished weaving in the ends and put them on last night I realized they will be adorable when I wear my Mary Janes with a skirt.

That was one tactical error I made when I bought these shoes—I wore my hand-knit socks to be sure to get shoes that fit, but now I can't wear them with normal socks. Which makes skirt or sundress wearing a little awkward.

I guess I'll plunge into the purple and orange scrappy socks when I get home. But now I've learned my lesson. I have less of the purple and orange yarns than I did of the red and blue yarns. Now I know there is no way I'll get full socks out of them. So I can start with the ruffle and work cuff down.

And if for some strange reason I run out, I'll just toss the left over blue into the mix.

(In case you are wondering, that is a corner of my desk at work. You can see Wee Teddy with his raglan sweater in the background. And that is a puppy picture of Samson when we first brought him home. And those are Hubby's legs in his kilt at our church wedding!)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Dropping the Ball

Oh, this post will be a little on the lame side.

I understand it is bad form to not blog and then come back an apologize for it. It's probably also bad form to blog about lame stuff. But I blog by my own rules.

I have stuff to talk about, but I'm terribly unprepared. In fact, I thought about not blogging at all. But I have to keep in the habit.

I've been knitting. But have no pictures.

I need to finish those book reviews. But forgot the book.

I have to finish up our France trip. But didn't write things up over the weekend.

See? Useless.


The Scrappy Socks 1 RB continue to grow. I've worked the heel and am 15 rows into the leg. I have used almost all the red yarn. In fact, I doubt I'll be able to work then entire next round in red. No matter, I'll just switch to the blue mid-round. The socks will be so visually loud anyway what difference will it make?

What does concern me is how short they could end up being. They are basically anklets at the moment. I don't think the blue is going to get me very far. I'm thinking I might bow to their anklet tendencies and make a ruffled cuff. Yeah, that will look fierce with my Mary Jane Earth Shoes.

I see a bunch of frogging in my future. I will probably end up working until I'm out or almost out of blue, then back tracking, and working the ruffle. This should allow me to use up as much yarn as possible. Which is, of course, the goal of these socks.

Unless they are going to end up an awkward length that makes the ruffle look stupid. Then I'll have to pull back further, work the ruffle, and see if I can consign any remaining yarn to the Polka Dot Socks. (Which is doubtful, since the Jitterbug is thicker than the JaWool.)

Do you see how exciting and suspenseful my life is? It's no wonder I get migraines.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Scrappy Socks Red & Blue

Scrappy Socks BR foot See, I can't blog about France if I don't write the posts about the trip during the evening at home. I'm going into such excruciating detail, they just take too long for a lunch hour post.

I've been writing in a Word document at home, then just formatting and tweaking them during lunch.

Instead, today I offer you knitting content!

Stash Busting
One good thing about this yarn diet is it is forcing me to use my stash and work on some of the projects I've been meaning to get to.

I was so tired of working 2x2 rib socks that I've reacted in the opposite direction to plain stockinette stitch.

These are one of the pairs of socks I've been meaning to make from my leftover Jitterbug yarn. I believe I've mentioned them before. You might even remember, back when the economy was good, I even bought some more Jitterbug for the express purpose of having more leftovers.

These are a combination of the Blue Jitterbug, which I think is the first color I bought, and the Red Jitterbug. I have 36 grams of each. The original socks took between 76 and 80 grams to make. The amount I have (72 g) should, in theory, be enough for a pair of socks. Just probably shorter than I usually make.

I'm planning to work the toes, heel, and cuff with the Blue and the instep and leg with the Red. When I first switched to the Red I was a little disappointed as I didn't see much difference between the two colors. Now that I have some length worked you can totally tell.

Seeking Balance
Scrappy Socks BR intI don't know how well you can tell in either of these pictures, but I have a funky set up going on. Since I'm using up scraps, I'm working these toe up. It made the most sense.

However, I was about seven rows into the Red on the first sock when I thought, "Drat! How will I be sure they come out even? I should have divided the ball first." (For some reason the leftover Blue is already in two separate balls.) I realized my only option was to work them at the same time, since I didn't want to have to frog just to weigh and divide the yarn.

I have not worked socks two at a time on two circulars. In fact, I don't own two pairs of any of the small circulars to be able to do it. Also, I don't get second sock syndrome, so I don't have the need/desire to work them simultaneously as a preventative measure. However, I have seen other people do it. And since I'm a terribly clever knitter, I was able to figure it out.

To Clever for My Own Good
I don't know how well you can see my set up in either of those pictures.

Since I don't have two circular needles, I'm using one circular and five dpns. hehehe! So half the socks are on the circ, the other halves are divided onto two dpns, and the fifth dpn is my working needle.

This is working out rather well for me. Seems to me, when I see people having trouble with 2 socks on 2 circs it's because they forget which needle to knit with. That is something that has put me off as it hurt my brain trying to figure out which direction they were going. But with my set up I know to work circ to circ and dpn to dpn. I've also kept a row counter on each sock so I can be check to make sure they are tracking the same. If the counters don't match, I know to stop and check for errors.

The foot is just about done. I'm going to work short row heels, because they are easier. I think, just to be safe, I won't cut the Red yarn until the heel is done so I can double check the foot length with a more proper fit.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Trip to France Day 6: Lyon-Nancy I

Passageway in LyonDay 6, Part 1

Breakfast was in the piano bar. They were out of croissants, but there was a toaster, so I was able to toast my baguette. I also had yogurt. I was finally brave enough to try the yogurt the previous morning in Carcassonne.

Although it was plain, unflavored yogurt, it was so delicious I could have just eaten it out of hand. It was flavorful, but not as super tangy as American yogurt, and very creamy. I’d been watching Hubby all week, and the thing to do is mix in some jam to give it flavor. After I finally tried it, I was kicking myself for not eating any sooner.

After breakfast we headed out for some sightseeing, as was our wont.

Knock, Knock
The Fodor’s, because we had not entirely given up on that publication, informed us that Lyon has neat old passageways that were used back in the Renaissance by the silk merchants to transport their product to customers without exposing it to the elements. It highlights a number on the Rue du Boef and the Rue St-Jean that have attractive features.

As these streets were around the corner from our hotel they fit in with our need for something easy and fun to do before getting on the road. We put the river on our left, our hotel at our back, and walked for a block or two. Then we turned right into the city and away from the river. After another block or two we came to the Rue St-Jean and a little plaza lined with about a bazillion cafes.

I cannot tell you whether any of them were any good as we did not eat in them. We were very annoyed to discover all these eating establishments so very close to our hotel, considering how far we had to walk the previous night.

Now, I know that Fodor’s doesn’t have the space or resources to review every restaurant in a town, but it would have been nice to know they were there. A little shout-out in the description of the Rue du Boef or Rue St-Jean would have been enough. I guess it’s a lesson in remembering to ask for recommendations at the front desk, rather than relying exclusively on your guidebook.

tower in lyonAlthough it was around 9 am, the town was still pretty much asleep. Delivery trucks were out, and people were sweeping sidewalks, but most places were closed. People actually live in the apartments off the courtyards the passageways lead to. (to which the passageways lead?) I could tell because they had those buzzer panels listing names.

Many of the doors were closed. Some were open and we wandered down them and took pictures of the pretty or interesting courtyards. I wonder whether there is some rule that at some point in the morning those front doors have to be left open. I wonder if it is annoying for the residents to know that tourists are going to come wandering in and out.

In fact, in one we were on our way back out of the courtyard and saw a woman coming down some interior steps. She slowed down and looked at us kind of funny. But I almost think that is because she saw Hubby first. He’s cute and all, but I would slow down and prepare to retreat if I saw a big, unknown guy wandering around.

Wait, yarn?
Having satisfied our need to gawk at stuff we loaded up the car. Our sights were set on Dijon for lunch. Nancy was our goal for the evening. We were starting that vacation conversation of, “Oh, that will be our next to last night before we fly home.”

You might be wondering by now at the sever lack of fiber content in our vacation. I’m not a yarn tourist. I always plan to be, but it doesn’t usually work out for one reason or another. Before we left on this trip I spent some time online scoping out addresses for stores in the towns we’d be staying in, or passing through. Of course, I wrote down addresses based on the fact that we’d have a GPS. Without the GPS I tossed the idea aside like a broken pair of needles.

As we headed out of town, heading for the D933 it felt like we looped up and around town. We passed through a little neighborhood, so there were many traffic lights. As we pulled away from one light my brain suddenly registered that the store we were standing next to had a sign for “Plassard.” I thought, “Wait a minute.” I pulled out my little list of addresses, but couldn’t twig the street name and match it to my list. Hubby noticed me rooting around, but I denied any nefarious activity. He made the leap to yarn and how we hadn’t seen any stores, but I said not to worry about it since I didn’t know whether it was open, there was no place to turn around, and parking was (of course) uncertain. Also, I was still pretty mad at France and Lyon for the horrible traffic the previous day and wasn't much interested in giving them more money.

Route du Vin My Eye
We stuck to D933 for a while but ended up on the N74 along the way. We were in Burgundy country and thought we might see more chateaus. However, although we kept seeing signs saying we were on the Route des Grands Crus, we could clearly see the vines further to the left. Every so often we saw indications of another road over there, but we didn’t want to risk trying to get to it since it wasn’t on our map. It was hard enough to navigate when the road was on our map! We were pretty sure they put the signs on the wrong road in order to keep the tourists out of their hair.

The countryside was lovely anyway. Rolling hills, cute villages in the distance, stands of trees. It reminded us of Vermont.

After a while we realized that Dijon was still too far away for lunch. I flipped frantically through the guidebook, but everything it listed seemed to be closer to Dijon and therefore also too far.

Cafe Pommard
Suddenly, we started seeing signs for "Restaurant le Pommard." It wasn’t in the guidebook, but Hubby recognized the town name because of wine production, so we took a hard left and headed in that direction.

Turns out everything in Pommard is named “[Blank] le Pommard.” This made it a little tricky to find the restaurant for which we’d seen the signs. Not that it mattered since there wasn’t any parking anyway. But then we saw a sign for parking for the Cave le Pommard.

We knew by then that Cave=Potential Wine Tasting, so we pulled in.

We were even more pleased when we saw the little enclosed courtyard parking lot had restrooms. Hubby hit the facilities, then headed into the store. I took a little longer getting out of the car. I was probably trying to disentangle myself from the four map type reference items I used for navigation (the Michelin map, the Fodor’s, the Southbey’s Wine Encyclopedia, and any pamphlets I snagged).

When I bounced out of the car I saw a lady sitting in the courtyard talking on the phone. She greeted me, so I
said, “Bonjour!” But apparently I said it at such a volume that she understood what I said without hearing how badly I mangled the pronunciation because she asked if I was French.

Ha! I was so surprised I actually did that thing where I looked around to see who she was talking to, while knowing I was alone. I said No. Then she asked if I was British. That made me laugh, because we got that a lot on the trip. I said I was American, and we continued on our way. She, however, sounded like she was British. It turned out she was French, but had learned English in Britain so had that accent.

In the meantime, Hubby was asking the young man inside if we could park there while we quested for lunch. He asked whether the kid spoke English. The kid said yes and started using slang, idioms, and such. Hubby asked if he was French. The kid said no, he was from Manhattan! He was a college sophomore and was just working in France for the summer to learn more about the wine industry. His dad is an importer in The States, so it was a logical move.

We walked around the corner to the Restaurant de Pommard. As it was by then 2 pm they were no longer serving full lunch. The waitress pointed out four lines on the menu from which we could select. Turns out they read “Ham, Ham Large, Cheese, Cheese Large.” Despite being overwhelmed with choices, we selected the large version of each, figuring it would be enough to share. Hubby also ordered two glasses of wine.

You will understand when I tell you my heart quailed when she brought out two slices of a ham terrine! The binder was a whitish material flecked with green, which might have been either broccoli or parsley. Yeah, we couldn’t quite tell by taste. The flavor was much more mild and less spicy than the rabbit terrine I had that first night in Paris. It was much more approachable. There were also a few leafy greens, a cold beet salad, and another red salad that was either more beets in a different sauce or cranberries. Also, there were these little piles of a cubes that were a clear, gelatin substance. I was brave and tasted the clear stuff, even though it reminded me of the putty, slime goop stuff I used to play with as a kid. It didn’t taste like much, just kind of salty.

There were four cheeses on the other platter. She told us to eat them from mild to strong. She told us the names, but as they meant absolutely nothing to me I was unable to retain them. The first was a soft white cheese like brie. The second was slightly orange, firmer, a little crumbly, but also with a mild flavor. The third was a soft white again, but with a crust that looked like crushed nuts. Hubby said he tasted horseradish so I stuck to the center of that one as far from the crust as I could get. The fourth cheese was orange again, kind of like Velveeta. It looked melted and had a rind with the appearance of crumbled paper.

It tasted like stinky feet.

I took one wee bite and couldn’t get bread or wine into my mouth fast enough to get rid of the taste. Hubby agreed. We had a good giggle wondering if they really eat it or just feed it to tourists to scare them away. The cheese platter also had a wee pile of greens, as well as some apple slices.

Hubby said we had to eat everything that was edible since we had to make a meal out of it. And we did clean the plates, aside from the stinky foot cheese and the cubes of clear gelatin.
Cave de Pommard
We headed back to the Cave. NY Boy had four or five wines Hubby could taste from all around the region. It was very convenient that he knew about American wines as he was able to compare French label conventions—referencing if a wine is from a single vineyard or from a general region—and such to the way we do things here. This was very helpful for putting information in perspective. As we were the only two in at the moment, Hubby really put him through his paces with tons of questions. Hubby bought two bottles of wine. This earned him one of those cardboard carry cases, which was very handy for packing later on.

It was getting late by then, so we sucked it up and hopped on the A31 in order to blast the rest of the way to Nancy. We must have paid cash, as I don’t seem to have toll receipts. It's probably just as well. By then we'd already been joking for a few days that President Sarkozy should give us the Key to the City of Paris for single handedly reviving the French economy through our use of their toll roads. We were also concerned that President Obama would tell Customs and Immigrations not to let us back in as punishment for not spending all that money at home instead.

We amuse ourselves terribly.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Done: Second Chance Socks

Second Chance socks doneMy obsession with knitting ribbed cotton socks continues.

Holy Smokes! I changed my web browser from the new version of Firefox to the new version of Safari and now my blog looks like hell. AAAAHHH! What font style/size was I using? Does it look like this on other people's computers?! Ok, I have to pull myself together.

As I was saying, this is my third pair of 2x2 ribbed socks. I'm actually rather tired of knitting ribbed socks, so these couldn't end soon enough.

Yarn: Lana Grossa Cotton Fun. I've heard a rumor it's been discontinued.
Needles: US1 dpn
Pattern: 2x2 rib, garter stitch edge heel stitch flap, princess sole, normal toe shaping.

The Name
These socks are knit from recycled yarn. I'm very pleased with myself because of this.

You might remember I started the process of harvesting this yarn back in July.

I had originally knit a pair of plain stockinette stitch socks with it. They were a little big to begin with and then they Second Chance socks solo stretched. Causing me to basically stop wearing them. That wasn't doing anyone any good, so I harvested the yarn and had another go.

The ribbing was an effort to counteract the lack of spring in the cotton yarn. I'm wearing them today and they are more or less sliding down. But the overall fit is better, especially on my feet, which is all that matters.

Moving On
This was my third pair of ribbed socks in a row. I am so over 2x2 ribbing it isn't even funny. I was getting tired of working these socks not because of second sock syndrome, but because I was sick of the pattern (or lack there of).

Oh, in case you're wondering, I kept better notes this time. The second sock went off without a hitch.

Well, expect for I somehow fouled up when I was kitchenering the toe shut. I was forced to rip it out and re-graft it. sigh. But it's lovely now.

I'm on to working on my Scrappy Socks from my leftover Jitterbug. I may have mentioned this intention sometime in the distant past.

And, of course, the Tartan Argyles, but I haven't had a chance to get a picture yet.

Tomorrow, hopefully another installment of our France trip!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Trip to France Day 5: Carcassonne-Lyon II

The Soane in LyonDay 5, Part 2.
(That's the view from our hotel window in Lyon.)

Lyon wasn't much kinder to us than Avignon had been.

As we approached the city we started seeing highway signs that said “bouchon.”
We said, “I wonder what that means?”
But figured it couldn’t be good.
Turns out it means “traffic jam.”
Although the first translation we found was “tavern.” Since that didn’t make sense at all Hubby used another translator, which said “stoppage.” That did make sense.

We went from cruising along saying, “Look! It’s the Rhone.” To sitting in crawling, bumper-to-bumper traffic. It was horrible, especially since we didn’t know what was causing it, or how long it was going to last.

So we bailed.

It might not have been our brightest moment, considering we didn’t have street level maps, but we were desperate.

Lost In Lyon
The situation only got worse. We drove in circles trying to figure out where we and how to get where we wanted to be. Of course, none of the road names we were seeing where on the lame little map in the Fodor’s.

Actually, just to twist the knife, I’m pretty sure the roads we were on were indicated, just not named. I’m pleased to report we did not have a fight, although it was a prime fight situation since we were stressed out and basically lost. Although I did find myself speaking in a very quite, precise, breathy voice in an attempt to counter Hubby’s snappiness.

Finally I told Hubby to head to the river, as it was the only landmark that was on the map, and go north along it until we saw something we recognized. Almost as soon as we did that we started seeing signs for the Vieux Lyon, which is the part of town our hotel was in. There was great rejoicing in the car as we followed the signs, although traffic was still pretty sucky. We crossed the Saone and stuck to the river bank again as our hotel was on the river.

Then, wonder of wonders, we saw a tourist office sign pointing the direction to our hotel! Things were looking brighter. We crept along the road, scouring the front of the buildings for a hotel sign.

Hidden Hotel

We did not see one.

We saw a building that had a French flag out front and a mysterious PH engraved on the front door.
I said it Hubby, “I think that’s it.”
He disagreed, since there wasn’t a sign.
I pointed out we were staying in the Phenix Hotel at 7 Quai Bondy and the numbers on either side of the mysterious flag building were 8 & 6. I said this in a very quite, calm voice.

Still, instead of taking the next left, he took the left after that. He had to because the street name had changed. Mind you, this was all one road running along the river, but heck it did bend, so I guess a new name was required.

So That's Why We're Ugly
I hopped out and ran back to the PH building. It was indeed out hotel.

I had the misfortune of walking in at same time as a pair of older women. There were two desk clerks. They obviously recognized the two women. So I did what any American would do, when they went to the left end of the counter I went to the right end. In my mind this indicated we were not together.

Apparently it doesn’t work that way in France because as the brunette helped the two women, the blond stood there smiling. So I squirmed around a bit. Nothing. I fidgeted some more. Still nothing.

Then I sighed in a loud and indignant manner and started to head for the door to at least tell Hubby we had found it. That got their attention. They asked if I was with the other women. I said, “Noooo.”

Yep, you read all that right. Lyon turned me into an Ugly American, but I couldn’t help myself.

So then the blond came to help me. We had reserved a parking space, which was good since there was nothing obvious on the street. She told me we had to go into the first left turn (the one Hubby passed) and they would open it up. I ran back out to Hubby with an update. Turns out they didn’t have a garage, per say. They had a two-car garage and we got to use one of the spaces. It was kind of weird, but, shoot, we were off the street and at our destination, so we didn’t care.

Hubby was all nice and polite, which hopefully made up for me being obnoxious.

What's That Smell?Lyon landscaping
The room was fine. It had a big bathtub, the bed was fine, and we had a nice view of the river.

After relaxing for a bit we went questing for dinner.

Here is something the guide books probably won’t tell you: Lyon smells bad.

I don’t know if it was the subway, the sewer, or the river, but it stunk. It was the warm, vaguely sewer smell cities get. Just to show you I’m not being xenophobic, I’ve smelled it in New York City as well.

Lyon also added to our hatred of the Fodor’s that started in Avignon. The book listed a cluster of restaurants as being across the Soane, a little north of us, and almost at the Rhone. We trooped over in that direction. We passed some nice park areas, but mostly it was ghost town empty streets, which made me nervous.

Since Lyon is one of those cities that has its foundations back in the 15th Century, perhaps earlier, the roads don’t always come together at nice right angles. This makes it hard to navigate. Well, we never did really find any of the places listed in the Fodor’s.

Mmm, Truffle Sauce
We ended up wandering into a place called Les Arcades.

We skipped appetizers as it was getting late and we were hungry. The menu struck me as Nuevo Continental cuisine. Hubby got a duck stir fry. He said it was ok.

I got a crepe stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese in a truffle cream sauce. Mine was very yummy. We could smell the truffle as soon as the plate got near the table. Hubby was very jealous as he loves truffle. He actually started dipping his duck in my sauce! It was very flavorful and rich. I did what damage I could and then Hubby finished the rest.

Creme Brulle in LyonWe shared one crème brule for dessert. The presentation was very neat. The waiter brought it to the table and then lit the sugar. This caramelized the sugar as we watched.

Really, who doesn’t appreciate an open flame for dessert?

We made it back to the hotel safely, despite having to cross through the empty streets again.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Trip to France Day 5: Carcassonne-Lyon I

Roman tower in CarcassoneDay 5, Part 1 (yes, I am amusing myself terribly by breaking each day into two parts.)

The next morning we went trotting downstairs for breakfast.

When we’d been peering out the hall window at the cathedral I could see part of a sitting garden and had wondered where it was and if we could visit it. Turns out it was the hotel’s. The breakfast buffet was set up inside a long room and then you could sit out in the garden. There were scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage, in addition to cereal and bread products. There was also a machine that looked like a deep fryer, only it was full of water. Next to it was a bowl of eggs with a sign that said something along the lines of “These eggs are crude. We invite you to cook them to your liking.” I found it very amusing that it said “crude” instead of “raw.”

All Around the Town
After breakfast we went into the city to explore, heading for the Citadel. There was already a line building, but we were not deterred. It was E8 a head to get in, but Hubby remembered a card he was given in his program that gave him free access to national monuments or museums. It worked!

The Citadel was cool. Sure, it was just plain stone rather than all decorated like Versailles was, but it was still neat to see. You could roam around most of it. We didn’t get the guided tour, but there were plaques explaining things throughout.

We had fun peering over the walls, out the windows, and through the arrow notches. Then we figured out how to get out on the ramparts. The city has a double wall. We’d been walking along the exterior wall the previous night.

At that time a Canadian couple asked us to take their pictures. Hubby was a little behind me so I told them they should wait for him. I said I would end up cutting off their heads or something. Of course I asked them to take our picture as well.
When Hubby caught up the "Where are you from?" conversation commenced.
Hubby said we were from Connecticut.
Then the Canadian guy said, "But your wife is from Down South, right?"
That amused us enormously.
Hubby replied, "Well, actually she's from New Jersey."
But I guess everything is Down South to a Canadian.

This morning we were walking along the interior wall. It took us all the way back to the main gate that enters the city. That was good because it was getting on to noon and we knew it would take a while to double back along the wall. From the gate we were able to cut straight up to the hotel.

Scarcophogus detail in CarcassoneWhile we were walking along the ramparts we could see into many little gardens. Some of them seemed to be the backs of cafes, but some sure looked like private yards. I mean, we even saw someone’s laundry hanging out to dry. I thought it would be rather cool to live in a place like that, even it if it probably was close quarters. The shuttle driver who drove us out confirmed that a few people could live inside the walls, but they usually had a business inside.

Since we were cutting through town we passed many of the little shops. I’m sure they were all tourist traps, but they were intriguing anyway. We only went in two shops, well three. One had perfumes and handmade looking soaps. My mom had asked for a bottle of perfume that she wouldn’t be able to buy in The States. This place had potential. There was a name brand that Hubby said was widely available throughout France that the women in his program when ga-ga over. So I thought that wouldn’t do. Then I found a wall of bottles that said, “Souvenir of Carcassonne.” Many of the scents were available anywhere—rose, vanilla, violet—but that actual version was unique. I chose one named “My love” because it was flowery, as mom had requested. I also got myself a cube of lavender soap and one of amber.

The store next door was a cookie and candy store. Customers got one free cookie, which was nice. The center front was an oval display with many different flavor cookies. You got a bag and made your selections, which were priced by the pound. Well, gram or something I suppose. We selected just about one of each, unless we were sure it was a flavor we didn’t like.

My eye was also caught by a tea towel in another store that had a map of Carcassonne on it. But by then we had to book back to the hotel and check out. While we were waiting for the shuttle I told Hubby I really wanted the towel. I had noticed it was the same price as the wine one I bought in Pauillac, so I figured the price was reasonable. I went dashing back to the store, snagged it, and dashed back just as the shuttle arrived.

Back on the Road
French windmillsWe bid a fond farewell to Carcassonne. Our next stop was Lyon. We jumped on the A61 and headed along the Mediterranean. We weren’t able to go to the sea, though, because we didn’t have time and didn’t want to get lost.

We have toll tickets for Carcassonne-E to Montpellier-2 for E11.70. Then Montpellier-1 to Remoulins for E4.80

We figured we’d stop in Avignon for lunch. Hubby also wanted to see the Papal Palace where exiled popes lived in the 1300s. The Fodor’s made it sound like a charming town. We thought we would find sandwiches and eat in a park overlooking the palace.

We could not have been more wrong.

Avignon was another walled town. It was also severely lacking in parking. There were parking lots outside the walls that appeared full. This should have been a warning to us, but we plunged in anyway.

There was some kind of street fair going on, so as soon as we turned into the city we encountered a detour. As far as I could tell it was a giant flea market. There were cars and people everywhere. It was chaos! We drove in circles once or twice looking desperately for parking and trying not to run anyone over. On our second or third pass we managed to follow signs for a parking lot, but it was full. By then we were flipping out. We were hungry and had to use the bathroom, so we fled Avignon, casting some choice words over our shoulders.

We made our way to the A7 to continue to Lyon. We have a toll ticket for Orange-Sud to Vienne for E15.50. We ended up stopping at a rest area for lunch. Have I mentioned their rest areas are like little convenience stores? They have packaged sandwiches cut in half to triangles. Some packs had a sandwich and a half (three triangles), which was plenty for us to share. Earlier in the trip we had picked up a bag of chicken and thyme flavored Lay’s potato chips.

We drove along, munching our sandwiches and chocolate bars, and told each other, “We’ll always have Carcassonne.”

To Be Continued...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Gift Knitting

Cotton baby sweaterLet us pause from our trip to France for some knitting content!

I actually knit a gift for someone.

Yeah, it doesn't happen often around here. I hope you aren't too shocked.

Pattern: One-stitch baby sweater from Lion Brand, 18 months size.
Yarn: Blue Sky Alpaca Organic Cotton, 2.5 hanks.
Needles: US9

So remember how, at the beginning of the year, I was making a sport out of not making gifts for my younger cousins who have been reproducing?

But how instead of being smart and keeping quiet about this laziness I was talking about it on Twitter and my blog, which both feed into Facebook—where all my family members can see it?

Well, back in May or June my mom ran into my cousins' mom (which is kind of surprising since Aunt T lives out in Calif.) And mom reported Aunt T said something along the lines of, "If a baby blanket is too boring to make, maybe someone should knit a baby sweater instead."


Which just shows you the high levels of sass in my family, in case you were wondering where I get it from.

Since even I can take a hint when you hit me over the head with it, I dutifully settled on a pattern and bought some yarn.

(Note: this yarn was purchase before the pay cut was announced, so I'm not off my yarn diet.)

I decided to go with the Lion Brand One-Stitch Baby Sweater. (You need a password/ID to get into the Lion Brand pattern library, so I'm not going to link it.) I had made it for my Cousin A's youngest son several years ago and remembered it was quick and easy.

The problem was choosing yarn. My Cousin X had registered for organic cotton rompers, layettes, sheets, etc. But I didn't know if she believed in organic or was just being trendy. Fortunately during one of mom's recent visits I had to answer her cell phone because she was driving. My Uncle the Priest confirmed his daughter is pretty rabid about the whole organic, non-toxic lifestyle. Which limited my yarn choices, but also justified my laziness as the 100 percent acrylic blanket I'd been avoiding probably wouldn't have been well received anyway. (Although she probably wouldn't have said so since she was brought up well. But she's got as much sass as anyone else in this family, so you never know.)

I settled on Blue Sky Alpaca Organic Cotton in the grown organic colorways. I'd used the normal Blue Sky Alpaca Cotton for a baby bolero for a coworker a few years ago and thought it quite lovely.

(Don't ask. It was a one-skein project and very cute. However, by the time the baby was old enough to visit the office, she had outgrown it. sigh.)

Now the pattern said I would need three balls of Lion Brand Cotton Ease and it comes in 207 yard balls. BSA-OC comes in 150 yard skeins. So by my math I needed 4.14 skeins of the BSA. I thought, "What's 0.14 of a skein between friends?" and just bought the four instead of five.

Turns out I only needed 2.5 skeins. Don't know how or why, but I thought it was pretty cool.

And a Hat
G stitch baby hatThen I sat there looking at the left over 50 grams of yarn and thought, "That's pretty useless."

So I fiddled around and made this little hat. I used US8 dpns because I apparently don't own US9 dpns. Which seems like a bit of an oversight, so maybe they just aren't in the drawer where they belong.

My first attempt was too small. I don't know much about baby head sizes as I do my best to avoid babies because they are gross. And for all I know they are contagious, like fleas or something. You touch someone elses baby and end up with one of your own. It's just too dangerous.

Anyway, even I, with my limited knowledge, knew the hat was too small. So I asked my friends who do have babies and got some size guidelines. Yes, there are tons of free patterns for baby hats available, but all the ones I saw were stockinette and I wanted garter to match the sweater. So I persevered.

My second attempt will hopefully fit. It only took 25 grams of yarn. Since the leftovers from the hat were even less useful than the leftovers from the sweater, I made a second hat. Now I'm ahead of the game the next time someone decides to reproduce. I'm feeling rather pleased with myself as well.

Of course, by the time I get to the post office, Cousin X's baby will probably have outgrown the sweater. But it's the thought that counts, right?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Trip to France Day 4: Pauillac-Carcassonne II

Day 4 Part 2.
Carcassone viewWe took the A62 out of Bordeaux to Carcassonne.

Let’s see, we’ve got toll receipts for St. Selve to Toulouse Nord for E 17.30. Then Toulouse S to Carcassonne for E 8.

Along this southern part was where we encountered the most consistent traffic on the highways. For most of the trip, we only really encountered traffic right around the cities.

Driving By
The country side was starting to get a little more hilly at this point. We were supposed to be able to see the Pyrenees in the distance, but the weather was pretty the hazy the whole time.

Carcassonne is a medieval walled city. The first part of the walls was originally built by the Romans. The wall and city were expanded on over the years. Hubby made sure we were in a hotel in the old part of the city, La Cite, which is inside the walls. This allowed us to take our car inside with us.

Approaching the city was kind of wild because the directions from the hotel said to take exit 24, which shot us beyond the city. We had to double back, but we were able to navigate by the road signs. If we didn’t have the directions, I probably would have said to get off at exit 23, judging by the road map, and who knows what would have happened then. Of course, this all meant we could see it, but then drove by it, which was a little confusing.

Popular Place
It was a mad house up by the old city section. There are three parking lots around it and people walking everywhere heading inside. We’d had Dany call head for us and they told her we should park in lot 3. To which we responded, "We hope we can find lot 3!" It took a while to find it as it was off the main road, beyond a cool old cemetery, tucked in a corner of the walls. Of course the catawampus road signs did not aid us very well in this endeavor. On the bright side we saw a good amount of the exterior walls.

Once we found it we were a little surprised to see a sign indicating it was full. Still, we identified ourselves as having hotel reservations. A guy got in another car and led the way for us. This was a very good thing as the roads were barely wide enough to fit the car! People had to squish against the walls or step into shop doors to make room for us. The lead car cleared the road and Hubby made sure to stay right on his tail.

The porter drove our car away after we unloaded our suitcases. The desk clerk explained that the car had to be out of the city by 10 am, but check out wasn’t until noon. So the next morning they drove car out and then had a little mini-van to take us to it when we were ready. There was a fee for parking, E 14 I think, but not for the shuttle, although Hubby did tip him.

We were in the Best Western Hotel Le Donjon. The lobby was all dark wood and tile. The staircases were all at multiple levels and I’m pretty sure I even saw one that when up on one side, down the other, and had another up level going off the side. Making it a tri-directional staircase. ::blink::

Our room was plain and serviceable. I think it’s one of the only rooms we had that had a little coffee pot. There was a mini-bar/fridge, which we had in several rooms. It also had air conditioning, which we totally needed because it was fairly hot and humid in this region.

Actually, the only thing I didn’t like about the room was that we had two twin beds pushed together. Separate sheets, blankets, and all. Grrr. But we could see the citadel from our room and we could see the cathedral from the window in the hall, which was pretty cool.

Wine! We tasted wine!
Cave in CarcassoneCarcassonne is in the Languedoc wine region. Through the hotel Hubby was able to set up a wine tasting with a Cave across the street. A woman and a man took turns pouring, and explaining the wine and producer. All the wines were yummy, but Hubby didn't end up buying any.

There were five wines, I believe, starting with a glass of champagne. Then a white and three reds. Or was it six wines, with three whites (including the champagne) and three reds? I don’t remember rightly, as it had been a while since lunch and the first two wines threw me for a loop. Wheeee! Hubby tried to help me out, but said I was going to put him under the table. He found it very amusing that I got so silly so quickly. But we didn’t have to drive anywhere else, so it was ok. Usually Hubby does tastings alone and I’m the designated driver. So it was nice to participate, but obviously I'm a light-weight.

Take that Canard!
After the tasting we went across the street diagonally and had dinner in the Le Donjon restaurant. It was kind of modern inside and the radio was playing all English music. This was amusing, at times, as the curse words weren’t edited out. snicker.

We had pre-paid for dinner through the hotel, so we selected from a price fix menu.

For starters I had salad with goat cheese and Hubby had fois gras, both of which were tasty. My entrée was duck confit with lovely little disks of fried potatoes with garlic. If I had a green, I don’t remember what it was. Hubby had a canard cassoulet, which was a little clay pot with white beans, chunks of duck, and sausage. It was all very well prepared. My duck just fell off the bone. It was also very flavorful. I took my first bite and exclaimed, “Oh, this is so good!" and started gobbeling it down. (I might have still been a little tipsy.)

(Here is a link to a random cooking blog I just found explaining what a cassoulet is. She even mentions Carcassonne!)

We ended up swapping plates halfway through. When we switched back I still had quite a pile of potatoes left and a good amount of duck. I keep a little plastic bag in my purse at all times in case I get a migraine (and the unfortunate side-effects of such). I slipped it out of my purse and loaded it up with my leftovers as subtly as possible. Hubby was my look-out and let me know when people were walking by so I could stop and look innocent. We had to take this extreme measure since doggy bags are not the norm.

For dessert Hubby had vanilla crème brulee and I had a chocolate lava cake. Are you noticing a trend with the crème brulee? Yeah, it’s one of our favorite desserts. And what better country in which to eat it? Of course, Hubby had coffee and I had chamomile tea. I couldn’t figure out how to order decaffeinated black tea, so I just started ordering chamomile.

The town had been pretty crowded with tourists when we first arrived, but by the time we were done dinner the place had cleared out. There were some people wandering around, but mostly it was quite. The walls in the hotel seemed a little thin, but it wasn’t too noise and we were able to fall asleep ok. Well, aside from that twin bed nonsense preventing snuggles!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Trip to France Day 4: Pauillac-Carcassonne I

Day 4: Pauillac-Carcassonne, Part 1. (Have I mentioned I'm long winded?)

Lovely view in Bordeaux areaBreakfast the next morning was the expected croissants, bread, jam, and yogurt. Later on Hubby and I discussed how it must be easier to run a B&B in France than in America since you aren’t expected to do a full, cooked breakfast.

We also grilled Dany for information. She said the fort we saw was one of three that used to protect the estuary. They were positioned so their cannon fire could cover the entire waterway.

She took the cost of the tolls in stride and said the highways were the best and fastest way to travel. She also said what we should have done was determine areas we wanted to see, then find a central location from which we could do day trips. Then move our base as needed. We were thinking, “Where were you in March when we were planning?”

It was all very interesting and informative. Then we went to pay her with our newly reactivated credit card. She said, “Oh, I kept meaning to tell you…my machine isn’t working. Do you have cash?”

I’m sure the sound of our jaws hitting the floor was audible. So Hubby turned to me and said, “I’m going to leave you here as a hostage and go find money.” I told him he could take the card and his passport into the bank and get a cash advance, which would suck since cash advances have higher APRs. But desperate times and all that. I hadn’t called the ATM card the night before, since we wanted dinner, and by morning they were closed because it was around 6 am EDT. However, when Hubby got to the bank he decided to try his ATM card, just for grins, and it worked. We were back in business.

I would have to say Wednesday was the best day of the trip. Our finances were sorted out and we had a nice relaxing day.

Not Napa
We were on the Medoc peninsula so we started out by heading north up the D2, aka Rue du Medoc, to see the wineries.

Wineries in France aren’t like the ones in Napa or Long Island. You can’t just zig-zag up the road, dropping in for a wine tasting. In France you need an appointment and get an hour long tour that includes the vineyards and cellars. We didn’t do any because we didn’t have time for all that. Also, how many in-depth discussions of vines and cellars can you hear in one day? Besides, we know a lot of that stuff already from our trips in the US.

Hubby’s theory is that in California and Long Island each vintner produces multiple wines. They’ll have a white or two along with a few reds. So there is something to taste. But in France they usually do one wine, and they do it well.However, this means there isn’t really anything to taste. "Here’s our one wine, thanks for stopping by."

This made the area seem not tourist friendly to us. Welcome to Wine Country, now go home. To add insult to injury, we frequently saw signs which translated to "Wine tastings. Open" and a directional arrow. The best we could figure out is they were pointing the way to the chateaus for people who had appointments. For us, they were just a big tease. We had to let go our preconceived notions of what a trip to wine country should entail and just enjoy the scenery.

There Is a Way
What you have to look for are Maison du Vin (which translates to House of Wine or something), or a Cave. They are both, as far as I could tell, basically wine stores. But since they carry wines from multiple vendors they have enough variety to taste. Hubby and I said to ourselves, “We’ll come to France, set up a tasting co-op and revolutionize the French wine country! We’ll be rich!”

We swung north to Saint-Estephe where we found a cathedral and a Maison du Vin. Hubby was able to taste a few wines and bought a bottle. I bought a tea towel that shows the wine appellations in France.

We headed back south, taking pictures of the grape vines and Paulliac Chateaubeautiful chateaus, and worked our way back to Pauillac. We found the tourist office, where we bought some cookies and a jar of flavored black tea.

Continuing south, we went through St. Julien, were we found a tasting room!

(not pictured. I don't remember which Chateau this is, but it has a British flag as well as a French one. Hubby would know.)

One family has three different labels, so they’ve consolidated their brands in one roadside room. The young woman behind the counter was a little flustered. It appeared they had cheese and crackers as well and she was serving a family in the next room when we wandered in. But once she settled down she was very nice. Hubby got to try a few wines and bought another bottle. She practiced her English. He practiced his French. It was all very cordial.

Up north, on the way down from Paris, the country side was very open, rolling farmland. Like in the Plain States in the US. We saw lots of corn, a grain we thought was barley because it was too short to be wheat, and sunflowers. Fields of sunflowers all yellow and happy. I kept trying to get pictures of the sunflowers, but they always seemed to be facing away from me. The pictures I take never seem to convey the visual impact anyway. I suppose it would have helped if we had actually stopped the car and gotten out, but that would have been sensible.

In the south the land got a little more hilly. On the peninsula there were some gentle hills, but mostly flat, with lovely grape vines as far as the eye could see. We like grape vines since we don't get to see them much. The weather was also lovely. It was a bit warmer, but we drove around with the windows open and could smell the water. It was all very charming.

Just Feed Me
Then we made our way down to Margaux, where there was a restaurant Dany had recommended for lunch. However, as it was 2 pm, lunch was over. We were disappointed, but around the corner we found a brasserie that was still serving. Brasseries are like little bar, convenience store, cafe places and they seemed to have longer serving hours.

I decided I didn’t want anything heavy and ordered a salad with chicken, egg, and cheese. One thing that was very convenient for me was most of the restaurants had English translations, so it was easy for me to order. Hubby ordered a cheese burger and French fries, which he said was very good. Everywhere we went we ordered a bottle of Badoit, which is sparkling French mineral water. We like fizzy water.

By the time we finished eating it was around 3 pm. We were practically at Bordeaux so we went ahead and hopped on the A62 to get over to Carcassonne.

To be continued...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Trip to France Day 3: Chartres-Versailles-Pauillac II

Grapes in PaulliacDay 3, Part 2. Because I'm long winded. HA!

After we left Versailles we had about a 6 hour drive down to Pauillac, which is on the Medoc peninsula above Bordeaux. This was a our longest stretch in the car and we were dreading finding out what the tolls would cost.

The tolls changed from here on. On the highways in and out of Paris we passed toll booths every several kilometers. On the other highways we would get a ticket after passing through a city, then pay the toll before we got to the next city. The parts of the highway right around the city were free.

Let’s see, we passed Orleans, Tours, Poiters, and Niort. We got off south of Saintes and north of Bordeaux. The only receipt I have is on at Allainville and off at Tours and it cost E 16.50.

Our goal was a little town called Blaye, which doesn’t rate a mention in Fodor’s. On the Michelin map the road ends and there is a B in the space over the water. But the passage is narrow, so the B filled the whole space. We figured it must be a ferry, and thought we’d seen that on some other map online. We figured a bridge would just be shown.

The problem was we were running out of cash since our credit cards were locked down.

Blaye seemed to be a cute little town. Classic stone buildings with slate roofs on narrow roads. There was a really neat looking fort on the riverbank, but we didn’t know anything about it and didn’t have time to explore. We were trying to figure out were the ferry was, since the signs were severely lacking. There was actually a map of the town at the fort, which I was able to use to figure out which direction the water—and ferry landing—was.

Then we saw an ATM. It was very exciting. I ran across the street and tried to get out E100. But the machine said my institution didn’t allow it and spit my card out. I tried for E60, only to be rejected again. I went back to Hubby. We said, “OMG we’re trapped in a foreign country, running low on cash and without credit cards. We’re going to have to start washing dishes!”

I'm On a Boat!
We found our way to the ferry and were very excited to see it was still there, because that meant it was still running. It would have taken about two hours to continue on the highway down to Bordeaux and back up again. An option we really wanted to avoid, especially since we didn’t know how much the tolls would cost.

Happily, the ferry was ready to load up and depart shortly after we arrived. We figured we'd get on because they probably wouldn't kick us out mid-stream. We could sort out payment on the other shore. Also happily, the fare was E19.50, which we had, although it just about cleaned us out.

Once we were on the ferry we relaxed a little. We knew we’d make it to our B&B and we’d be able to sort out the credit cards.

We were staying at the Lou Bercail, which is a B&B run by an American woman named Dany who has lived in France since the 70s. So about the only thing American about her now is her accent!

We found the place, which was exciting, and Hubby got out and knocked on the door. And he knocked again. And again. And we were like “aaaahh! Where are they?!” I took another look at the little map she had e-mailed us and realized the little X she had made was on the other side of the block. We found our way around to the back of the house to a metal gate.

Hubby just waltzed into the back yard and then Dany appeared because she had heard the gate opening. They were in the backyard (which was quite large), so hadn’t heard us knocking. She said when we didn’t show up by 6 pm, and didn't call, she figured we had flaked on her.

And I mean it was a big back yard. She has a swimming pool as well as some open green spaces. There are lavender bushes and a massive fig tree that looked as big as my house. It was quite a nice view from our second story room. Oh, and beyond her yard was a vineyard, so we had the complete picture.

Cashflow Restored

She showed us to our room. Then dialed the number for the credit card for me. I blasted right through the security questions and didn’t mess around with the normal customer service rep. (“I’m sorry for the inconvenience, ma’am, let me transfer you.” Yeah, you’ll be sorry, alright.)

When I got to the security person I told her what was going on. She said they flagged my account because there was a charge overseas at 4 am. I was like, “Yeah! That was me! I’m in France!” She unlocked my account. Then I was like, Listen, WTF, I called you people two weeks ago? And she said she can’t see the notes from the other department. Which sounded wicked stupid, if you ask me, but the account was unlocked and that was all that mattered.

Dany sent us to a place called La Salamandre for dinner. It Street in Paulliacwas down by the water. We’d been driving through town wondering were everyone was. Turns out they were all at the restaurants down by the water, too.

Seriously. When we did manage to get off the highway and into one of the little towns, they always seemed deserted. Ghost towns, everyone of them. With no people or cars in sight. It made us feel like we were in a Medal of Honor game. We wanted to start shooting Nazis. Of course, I probably would have ended up walking into a wall, or getting stuck in a corner. My avatar control skills aren't always the best.


It was a nice restaurant. We had a table on the terrace. There was a dock, then a parking area, then some seating, a sidewalk, and more seating against the front of the building, which is where we were. One couple had a black Lab passed out under their table. There was also a pair of scrawny black cats wandering around. Just like the cats in the French poster ads you can buy. Black cats with the one white flash at their throats.

We skipped appetizers. I was still full from the dinner the night before, so I just ordered a pizza margarita. In Connecticut, these pizzas have slices of tomato and mozzarella. In France, it was like a normal cheese pizza. But it had a really thin, crispy crust, and lots of cheese and a few black olives scattered over it. And it wasn’t cut, which blew my mind. It still tasted good.

Hubby must not have been thinking straight, because he ordered a duck dish. We did our best to devastate the duck population while we were in France. Take that, canard! He said it was good, but didn’t blow him away. He must have still been full too, because he ended up stealing slices of my pizza instead of focusing on his own meal. Which wasn't a problem because it's not like I'm going to eat an entire pizza by myself.

Poor Hubby tried to order a glass of wine, but they were out of each one he selected. He finally just asked for a glass of local red. It was kind of funny. For me, at least.

For dessert Hubby had a collection like mine from the previous night. There was a shot of coffee and a crème brulee and one or two other things I don’t remember.

Mine was a dollop of chocolate mousse sandwiched between two crispy lace cookies. It was all sitting in a puddle of crème anglese. Have I mentioned I think the world needs more crème anglese?

A big thunderstorm whipped through while we were eating. We could see the lightening approaching and then the rain came thundering down. People, and the two cats, ran for cover. But it didn’t last long. We were under an awning, so we didn’t get wet. Although the fringe on my Carnival Shawl got a little wet. Either it wasn't fully under the awning or it was on the ground without me realizing. No harm done, however, I just left it on the chair in our room to dry out.

Then we went back to the room and passed out.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Done: Opal Cotton Rib Socks

Opal cotton solesOk!

Let's take a brief break from the France trip to talk about knitting. What a novel idea.

Partly because my knitting is moving along apace and I don't want to have to play catch up too much. And partly because I'm writing such detailed posts about our trip I can't keep up.

In case you're wondering, or bored, I'm writing those posts primarily so I can look back later on and remember stuff, rather than primarily for your entertainment. But hopefully you are entertained as well. I've always meant to keep a diary of our trips, but never get around to it.

Anyway. The socks.

Travel Project
I finished the first sock and started the second before I left. I went through airport security with part of a sock on my US1 5" Brittany Birch double points—and no one batted an eye.

Not in JFK heading to France. Not in CDG heading to Dublin. Not in Dublin heading home.

So HA! to all you knitting vs. airport security worry warts.

For the record: most of the storied I've heard about people's needles being confiscated have involved metal circulars. Which might be a wake up call about what you want to travel with.

Now, I did have my Knit Kit with me and in a moment of anxiety I packed the collapsible scissors in my checked luggage. The company says they are TSA approved for travel in the US, but why take chances? Especially since I knew I wouldn't need them any time soon.

Since we spent quite a bit of time in the car, looking at rolling countryside, it was easy for me to work on my mindless 2x2 sock while gazing out the window. Although I did have to wait for some quite time in a hotel room to turn the heel.

Done. Re-done.
I was very excited when I finished the second sock on the flight home.Opal cotton done

I wasn't so excited when I put them on for a finished project picture and realized the toes didn't match.

That didn't make any sense at all, since I thought I had matched the stripes pretty well when I cast on for the second one. And I couldn't see the pattern go off anywhere in the body of the sock.

Then I held the two socks up together and realized the second one was shorter than the first in the foot. Much gnashing of teeth, measuring, and counting ensued. Hubby made the tactical error of wandering by and tickling my bare foot during this time. Of course, I growled and hissed at him. Sending him and the puppies fleeing to a different room.

Turns out the second foot was 10 rows short. Turns out when I knit the first sock I had worked to a total of 120 rows. Decided that was too short and worked to 130 rows before starting the toe shaping—but had never updated my notes.

As I finished the sock while I was squished in the center seat of an airplane, it didn't occur to me to haul out the first sock for comparison. Otherwise I might have said, "Hey, the first sock ends on blue and this second one is ending on yellow. What's that all about?"

When I apologized to Hubby and explained the tragic situation he replied, "Wow. You don't usually make such big mistakes." Which made me feel a little better, as it implied I usually knew what I was doing.

Of course, it was a simple matter to pull out the toe and rework it. But it was also terribly annoying.

I'm getting a little tired of knitting 2x2 rib cotton socks. However, when I was ready to start my next project, that was the closest to hand. But when I done these purple Second Chance Socks, I should be able to work on socks with a more interesting pattern.

Yarn: Opal Cotton sock yarn
Needles: US1
Pattern: Adlibed, 2x2 rib, Cuban Heel, Princess Sole, "Heart of Blossom" toe shaping.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Trip to France Day 3: Chartres-Versailles-Pauillac

Day 3, Part 1 (I guess we did a lot this day as this post was running really long, so I decided to cut it into two part.)

Chateau d'Esclimont extWe ended up sleeping in until around 8 again, which is understandable after the fire drill.

Breakfast was a buffet with scrambled eggs and sausage, in addition to the standard croissant, bread, jam, and yogurt. It was a nice change of pace.

After breakfast we wandered around the grounds a bit and took some pictures.

Then we went to check out. Yep, you know what’s coming. Our credit cards were rejected again. I thought the previous morning was a fluke, now I knew something was wrong.

Flagged?! What do you mean flagged?
The desk clerk dialed the international collect call number for me. And I had to go through all the security measures, which didn’t please me at all because it wasn’t a private place, then I had to listen to all the info about my current and available balance before I finally got to a customer service rep.

I explained that I was on a trip to France and my card was being rejected. She apologized for the inconvenience and said there was a flag on my account because of unusual activity. I was like, “Yeah, that’s me, I’m in France. I told you people two weeks ago. Lift it.” And she apologized again and said it was a different department and she would have to transfer me. But, oh, that department doesn’t open until 9 am EST.

And I flipped out. I said, “It’s 10:30 am here in France and I’m trying to check out of my hotel!” And she said there wasn’t anything she could do and I’d have to call back later.

So my questions are: Why the heck did I bother calling in advance if it didn’t work? And why the heck do they have a number for international calls if they aren’t open international hours?

Note to people who train customer service reps: Having them apologize did nothing to calm me or make me feel better while I was standing in a foreign country being embarrassed by having my credit card rejected.

So we resorted to paying with our debit card again and said, Ok, we’ll call tonight when we get to the B&B.

Just Give Me a (Road) Sign
We headed out to Versailles. Things were going well until we saw a sign for a detour because the road was closed. There was a guy sitting behind the sign, looking bored. He, of course, didn’t speak any English. But we tried to ask for directions anyway. This was an issue because we didn’t have detailed road maps, so we were basically flying blind. But we managed to stumble around and find our way to the road we needed.

The French, apparently, navigate around by city name, rather than road names or route numbers like we do in America. We were able to figure that out pretty quickly. So we looked for directional signs pointing toward our destination. Or towns on the other side of our destination knowing that as we got closer we’d start seeing signs for our destination. Still, it was a rather vague way to navigate compared to what we were accustomed to.

Also it seemed to us that while American road signs indicate what you are going to do up ahead, the French signs seemed to be indicating what you need to do here! Right here! And the French signs are tilted at an odd angle compared to American ones. American street signs are at right angels. French ones are at, I don’t know, 45 degrees or something. I suppose this sort of made them easier to read as they were facing us nicely. But for unsuspecting Americans wandering the countryside it took us a while to realize the signs were telling us to go straight, not turn left.

I admit, we did a few full rotations through a couple traffic circles. However, we didn’t do it because we couldn’t figure out how to exit them. We did it on purpose so we could take another look at all the street signs and figure out which one to follow. It was actually kind of convenient. We got a second chance and didn’t have to find a place to turn around, as we would have in a regular four-way intersection.

Despite the confusing signs, we made it to Versailles in about an hour. Of course, there was no parking. We had issues with parking almost the entire time we were in France. The country seriously needs more parking garages. Or at least better signs directing people to the parking garages, because we didn’t see many.

We managed to find street parking and Hubby fed the meter 2 Euro for an hour and a half. In the mean time, I was under a tree fighting the urge to hurl because I was so stressed out over the credit card situation. I assured Hubby I just had to get some air and get distracted so I could focus on something else, then I would calm down.

Hubby asked a man and his son parked near by how the meter worked. The guy was like “We speak English.” Hubby was like “Yeah, that’s why I’m asking you.” Turns out the dude was from Long Island!

Now That's a Palace
Line at VersailleNow, remember, Versailles is closed on Mondays. Which maybe contributed to what a mad house it was on Tuesday morning. Luckily a coworker had told me we could by our tickets in advance online. If we hadn’t, I don’t know what we would have done, because the non-ticket holder line was out of control. It doubled back on itself three times.

The ticket holder line wasn’t much better, for that matter. The entrance was at the 11 o’clock in the main courtyard. The line went across the top of the courtyard and down the side to the 4 o’clock. We were like, Holy Smokes, our meter is going to run out.

But for all that, it only took about 10 or 15 minutes to get through. I theorized that it looked like there were a lot of people in line, but really everyone was in groups and family units, so we didn’t really have to wait for every single person to get through.

So I would strongly urge you to buy your tickets in advance. I would also urge you to use the restroom somewhere before you get to the palace because the lines for the ladies room were at least as long as the line to get inside. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea. The men’s room, of course, had hardly any line at all. Luckily, I didn’t need to visit the facilities while we were there.

We also didn’t need the audio tour, as Hubby was able to walk around naming all the people in the portraits and why they were important. I knew enough to be dangerous because I’ve read The Three Musketeers by Dumas, although it made Hubby roll his eyes. Still, he’ll relate stuff to movies for me so he doesn’t have to explain everything.

Hubby thought it was wild to be walking the same hallways as all the historical people he has studied. We admired the garish decorations and peered out the windows at the gardens.

The program Hubby was on didn’t include a visit to Versailles, which surprised us. We don’t know why, maybe the distance, crowds or expense did it. They did go to a different chateau for a tour. Hubby said he learned that they had fancy bedrooms were they received guests, but they slept in a plain room usually located through a secret door. He said when the French Revolution started a mob of women broke into Versailles and destroyed Marie Antionette’s bedroom, but she was safe in her secret bedroom. And we could see the door, which was cool. I think they should have the door open so you could at least see inside.

Hall of Mirrors in VersailleWhen I went to France in college my friends and I went out to Versailles. I remember not being impressed with the Hall of Mirrors. I don’t know if I hadn’t heard a good description, or seen pictures, but I think I expected it to be more of a fun house hall, and it isn’t. This time around I was more impressed, which pleased me.

We ended up managing to walk through all the public areas in a little over an hour and a half. We did skip the last art gallery of French History, and the Opera House was closed for renovations. The gardens were another ticket and we decided to skip them as well. We were back to the car just before 2 and we didn’t have either a parking ticket or a boot, so the day was looking up.