Thursday, 29 May 2014

FO: Cable rib socks

Just a quickie, as I've been out on an adventure and I have been trying to organize my thoughts and photos on it, and my laptop has come to a grinding halt.  I'm in the process of backing everything up so I can wipe my hard drive clean and start anew, as that is the only thing I can think of that will get this up to speed.  

I finished a pair of socks- the Cable Rib Socks from the Interweave Favorite Socks book.  

So the ugly.  I've overdyed these since I took the pictures (and blocked them, so they look a bit neater) but ugh.  The yarn is Austerman Step in "grass", and it looked just peachy on the shelf, but when I started knitting I realized pretty quickly that it just wasn't working.  I loved the greens, but the reds and pinks made me feel fairly nauseated.  I kept going though, and then threw them in a pot with some food color, which made the reds pop less and the dulled down the pink and white stripes.

Still, they are socks, and they are a gift of the practical nature.  The yarn seems sturdy enough, and they are machine washable.

Also, I realized something amazing and unrelated to socks this week.  If I want to lose weight and get more exercise, it's best to start a pot of homemade stock on the stove.  Then, go out to dinner in Brixton, and when you are almost done your Pad krao, remember you left the stove on.  This causes a surge of adrenaline the likes of which I rarely experience, and I sprinted back home in my heavy rain boots and layers of rain gear, peering ahead hoping not to see firetrucks the entire time.  Well, I ended up not being in the awkward situation of explaining to my landlord exactly why I burned the flat down, and I came home to a happily simmering pot of stock and the apartment smelling quite homey and good, and collapsed in a heap after breaking the 7-minute mile barrier that I had been aiming for years now.  In rain boots.  In my head, I knew it was going to be fine- I usually leave stock on the stove for three or four hours at a time with barely a glance into the kitchen.  Just being out of the house and knowing the stove was left on made my head leap to automatic worse-case scenario.  In all my life, I have never ever forgotten the stove being on.    

Lesson learned.  Leave the stove on if you want to be in great shape and run like the wind.

Friday, 23 May 2014

A lovely walk in Essex

Well, maybe "lovely" is pushing it.

It's been warm.  I've been spoiled on cool-weather hiking, and was totally unprepared for this walk to be as exposed as it was.  I guess I liked it well enough, but it was far from my favorite countryside ramble.


We started in Rochford, about an hour from Liverpool station.  The footpath wound, rather nerve-wrackingly, across a golf course, past a church and a great hall.


Once past that nonsense, the trail crossed a really busy road and started to skirt the edges of dirty industrial ruins and junkyards, complete with mean dogs.


A graveyard of ships, a muddy creek filled with shopping trolleys, an abandoned housing complex.  This was the most gritty of walks I've done so far.



One thing about the trails, and generally outdoors, in the the UK is how respectfully clean things usually are.  There is very little in way of errant garbage and even cigarette butts on the trail.  Occasionally, you might see beer bottles littering a tucked-away area here an there.

This was was a bit on the grungy side.


Someone, please explain: of the one thing you find in dirty little creeks, why will you predictably always find shopping carts?






Once past all that, the trail got a bit more scenic.  The trail went across the top of a dyke with the salt marsh estuary on one side, and farms on the other, and it was like this for miles.  It wouldn't have been a bad walk except for the sun and heat and wind.  Despite much sunscreen and hats, it was really exposed and hot the entire time, with no shade at all.  Occasional planes would buzz quite low overhead on their way to Southend Airport nearby, and that was the only thing man-made you could see moving.


This entire walk made me contemplate why I own, and was wearing, a pair of hiking Capris.  England is the land of the stinging nettle.  It's a tall, multi-leaved greed plant that grows everywhere there might be a clearing.  They look innocent enough, with no obvious thorns or spikes.  Alas, their stings come from near-invisible hair-like needles that when you brush up against them or touch them, leave you thinking you have been cut by razors.  It's quite painful, and every time I had touched one, my skin got odd white bumps where every needle went in, and then very swollen and red until the next day.  Despite the heat, I will stick with full coverage pants next time I hike.  My legs looked rather beat up after a couple miles through the brush.    



It was also quite a boring walk, with none of the hills and woods and changing landscape of previous walks. It was endless.  It was a very flat walk (as most of Essex appears to be) but walking the overgrown marsh grasses on the trail was pretty tiring, as they pulled you back with every step.




This was also the first walk we've done where there was no one else on the trail.  At all.  We did not see a single other person coming or going until we hit a boatyard at Pagelsham, about 8 miles away.  It was actually quite nice to see another person- while I do like my nature and quiet, it felt creepy as hell to be that alone for so long.




The trail did not look often used.  I was hoping for more birds- I saw a lot of gulls, some oystercatchers, and one far-off bird of prey, but nothing really all that amazing.




We stopped at a local pub for a drink and a rest.  To our total surprise, it was 4 in the afternoon.  Despite having only done about 8 miles, it had taken us a much larger chunk out of the day than we anticipated.  I had drank four half liter bottles of water and I barely peed all day, I was red in the face even though I re-applied SPF three times, and I just didn't really feel the need to finish.  


We were only about halfway done- the walk looped back around an inland farmroad loop back to Rochford.  We had gotten going at an early hour, but it was just a slow, slogging walk on a very warm day.

An executive decision was made- we had dinner plans back in London and a friend couch-surfing for the next few days.  I felt like I could have gone on and finished the walk, but I just found it uninspiring, and not very comfortable without shade or trees along the route.  The sun stays up quite late this time of year, so daylight wasn't an issue, but just being out and exposed for so long is really tiring.

So we called a cab to bring us back to Rochford Station.  It was worth it- not only was the cab driver hilarious and chatty in his near-indecipherable accent, but we got home in time for dinner and even got a chance to shower beforehand.  Said driver, after getting over the fact that we had just walked to our destination, told us "e'vryone here who owns a pub claims to be cousins with Jamie Oliver", like that instills some magic genetic predisposition to better cooks in the kitchen.  We had a nice chat, we watched miles of dull, flat farm fields buzz past us, and we arrived at the station with not a two minute wait for the next train to London to pull in.


It wasn't my favorite walk so far, but it doesn't mean it wasn't fun.

Thursday, 22 May 2014


London has been unexpectedly warm these past few days- temps near 25c (76f) all week.  It's disconcerting, as I was planning on wearing warm woolly sweaters all summer, and now I have to scramble to find something light and cotton to wear.  Plus, last week, there was hail:


It pretty much destroyed my delicate little pepper plants, but everything else seems to have made it okay.

Seriously though.  The weather is not as bad as they make it out to be.

The first time I came to London for a visit in springtime.  I thought everyone was a liar here.  I got a week of warm, sunny sunscreen-needing weather in London before spending two weeks hiking around Scotland without needing rain gear once.  I think it may have sprinkled one afternoon in the mountains, and it did get a little chilly at times, but still.  London.  Sunshine.  tee shirts.  Sunglasses.  I had to buy a sundress because I couldn't stand to wear anything drab and warm that I brought after those first few days.  

Here are some pictures from that first trip.

May you all have this kind of good-weather luck when you travel, always.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014


I love Amsterdam.  It's just so charming and sweet, with an added dose of crazytown.

I've been a handful of times, and it's always a place I'm happy to return to at any opportunity.  It's only a 45 minute flight from Gatwick, plus the three hours of delays that Sleazyjet makes you endure with every single flight I'v ever taken with them.

So we arrived in Amsterdam much, much later than expected, and in a full-on monsoon which barely let up the 5 days I was there.  It was cold and wet and windy every single day.  My camera barely left the indoors as I was terrified of bringing it outside.  Umbrellas proved useless against the deluge, and I very sadly had to abandoned plans that involved me riding my bike through tulip fields while nibbling on a Gouda rind.

Happily, we were staying in a nice place found via AirB&B, which I constantly announce that I've had it with that site and then find someplace lovely, with super nice generous people.

 A centuries-old warehouse converted into lofty light-filled canalside flats, with unique features like a hammock that you can string across the living room.  I found this to be a perfect place to listen to the rain beat without break against the skylights while nibbling on spacecakes for hours on end.  The woman who owned the place was a sweet, eccentric Dutch lady who popped the cork on a bottle of bubbly the moment  our feet hit the doormat, and laughed in her throaty, pack-a-day laugh that she had poisoned all the candy in pretty glass jars in the house.

What to do?  Ironically, I had planned to go to Waterland in the North to bike around, but I could barely keep myself upright on slippery cobblestones, and the lines for all the museums looked like the place where suckers go to stand in the driving rain for three hours.

I did more than my fair share of consuming because of this.  Food, drink, you name it.  Ingested.  I made some really grand discoveries- a tiny, centuries-old distillery called Wynand Focknick in the red light district that had probably the best tasting room I've ever been to.   They serve delicious, fruit-infused liqueurs in large, flared shot glasses.  The chatty bartenders recommend something based on your unhurried conversation with them, and then they fill the little glass past the meniscus point, and force you to "nose" the glass to sip up the extra so you can carry it to your table.  They will shame you if you try to carry it off without sipping the top bit of it first.  It was a jolly place, with locals along with tourist.  I met a fantastic local prankster dressed as a tourist who was hiding from her bride-to-be friend on a sort of scavenger hunt, who showed up and spotted her instantly.  The fun was not ruined.      

I had a lot of mediocre Indonesian food, so I headed back to dependably excellent Tempo Doeloe for more incredibly spicy fare.  I had the best pizza outside of NYC and Naples at YamYam, and discovered a rather awesome Brown Cafe nearby at Cafe 't Smalle- despite it being a Saturday night after 10 pm, it was filled with casual locals, having quiet conversations, and it was old and lovely to boot.

There was one day that was a little sunnier.  I hit the newly-opened Rijksmuseum.  It didn't disappoint.  It's enormous and grand, but what I loved the most was someone put witty alternative commentaries on giant post-it notes all around the galleries.

Renting a bike in Amsterdam is a must, as long as you can keep a clear-enough head to peddle and steer.  The city can be a bit frenetic on bike, as the locals really zoom along.  You see people walking their dogs on their bikes, transporting their kids and dogs on bikes with carts attached, people eating and smoking on bikes, people holding hands on dates on bikes.  They will even hold an umbrella up when it starts to rain.  I am hesitant to scratch my nose while I'm riding.

The cold sun came out and I headed to Vondelpark for a much less stressful ride.

Despite it being cold and windy, I'm glad I went, as it was the last time things were dry while I was there.

I spent the next three days dodging hail and rain and thunderstorms.  I saw a great deal of coffeeshops and bars from the inside, and had a very chill few days.

I love my downtime, but when I travel, I feel the need to go-go-go all the time.  Any moment you aren't on your feet seeing and doing something is a wasted moment when I travel.  Happily, this trip changed all that and I was pleasantly relaxed and chill at them end of the weekend, having really had nothing to do but slow down and indulge.

I've been to Amsterdam enough to have seen quite a bit of it, so I didn't feel the pressure to really get myself too rain-drenched.  All things considered, it's a pretty good place to curl up in your living room hammock and doze off, with only hunger pains to motivate you to get out of the house.

The Dutch are quirky, fun people, and while they get annoyed (like everyone would) at apeish behaviour, I've never had someone be unkind to me here despite the fact I barely speak three words of Dutch- Hallo!  Welkom!  Dank u!  The food is excellent as long as you stay clear of the mess of frites and kebaparies in the red light district.  The prowling gangs of hen and stag parties can be a little much, but they usually don't venture out of one section of the city.  More amusing are the busloads of tourist who come here to gape at the perceived sinfulness of it all.

Maybe I should move here.