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August 2012

And Now For Something Completely Different

Tom has just returned home from (yet another) trip to India.  (He travels there - mostly to Mumbai - two or three times a year for work.)  I convinced him to do be a "guest blogger" here, so you could enjoy another exotic location --- one that I'd like to see myself someday!

Take it away, Tom. . .


My first guest blog!  Most of my business visits to India are centered in the Mumbai area, sometimes with shorter trips to other Indian cities:  Hyderabad, Chennai, Kolkata, Pune.  But on this trip, I had a chance to visit Delhi, the capital.  My colleague, Todd, and I had a few hours of free time on our Friday in Delhi, but passed on the opportunity to sight-see the numerous sights there since we were both jet-lagged and had teleconferences with the US later in the evening (accomodating the 9.5 hour time difference).  We did take the long way back to our hotel, though, so I could get some photos of the monkeys in the local park.


In some places, these guys are as abundant as squirrels are in US parks.  People feed them.  I thought they were exotic, having never seen monkeys other than in a zoo (excluding a few I'd seen in other parts of India -- on leashes . . . including one actually wearing makeup . . . as a way to make money from tourists).


The monkeys were a bit shy until one of the locals held out a corn cob . . . which got the bigger "alpha male" (not pictured) to come running, looking a bit ominous (I quickly retreated to the safety of the car).


It was easy to pass on the Delhi sights because we knew that on Saturday we'd be visiting one of the Wonders of the World:  the Taj Mahal!  This involved an early morning start for the 3 hour drive to Agra . . . in order to beat the crowds.  Along the way, we stopped at a dodgy Dabba (translation: "truck stop") catering to tourists for a quick breakfast.

From the first view, the Taj is stunning!




What isn't immediately obvious from the familiar distance profile we've all seen in photos is the intricate workmanship involving carved marble and elaborate inlaid stone (going in one-inch deep).



Onyx is prominent (black), but many other stones are used to get the different colors:  malachite (green), lapis lazar (blue), etc.  Our tour guide knew them all.  After all. . . as he informed us . . . he'd made 4,000 visits to the Taj over the last 20 years!


It took 22 years to build . . . incorporating 1,000 elephants to haul the marble over hundreds of miles.  An army of workers . . . (reminds me of the "despair" poster that states "there's no limit to what can be acieved with an endless supply of expendable labor").

Exquisite detail, symmetry, sensory overload -- an incredible site and accessible to the point of being able to touch it!  Simply over the top!


Despite being tired and HOT, we stopped at one more fort across the river for a quick tour before leaving the area.


I was particularly inspired by the arches.


Then, a bit of surprise shopping (the guides get some "consideration" for bringing tourists to their shops), lunch at a resturant disconcertingly called "Indiana" (with a snake charmer in the parking lot, even!), and then a long drive back to Delhi (almost 5 hours now that traffic was at its normal level).


Impressions:  Incredible sights.  A long day.  A really tough drive - especially on the way back - featuring multiple near-miss collisions, massive potholes, and an incident of road rage in which a motorcyclist threatened to hit our car with a bamboo pole.  (Our driver was aggressive ... and "safe" in that he looked out for us, but not necessarily for those around us.)  Back at the hotel, the adventures sent me running (not walking!) for my Cipro to quell the freshet of recently acquired GI diversity (my guess is . . . a result of the Dabba!).  Overall, very worth the rigors endured to get there; no regrets!  But, like running the Boston Marathon or hiking Longs Peak, not something I ever need to do again.

At least. . . not for me.  I'd definitely take Kym there, should she ever decide to travel to India!

The Treasure Chest: A Tale of True Confessions

First, join me in congratulating Cookie . . . who won my Travelogue Comment Contest.  The St. Petersburg Matryoshka dolls will soon be on their way, Cookie!



Next, I thought I would share a little True Confession.

My sister and I pack very lightly when we go on our trips together.  For our 10-day cruise, for example, we each packed just one carry-on sized suitcase.  This doesn't leave a whole lot of room for . . . shopping.  On our previous trips, we've done a little shopping; a few things here and there, mostly small and packable.  But for this trip?  We figured we might want to do some Shopping!  (I had been planning on finding yarn, of course.)

So.  We brought an empty suitcase with us!  To fill with goodies we might pick up along the way.  We called it our "Treasure Chest."

And. . . fill it, we did!

In my family (and this tradition has now spread to my sister's family as well), we always buy a fridge magnet from every place we visit.  (I'll have to do a blog post about our magnet collection someday.)  So. . . new additions to our magnet collection went into the Treasure Chest.


I also have a special little cabinet on the wall in my bedroom -- handmade by Brian in his 8th grade woodshop class . . .


and on the middle shelf, I keep minature reminders of my trips with my sister.


What ELSE did I pack in the Treasure Chest to bring home?

A dala horse and a tomte from Sweden (to join others I already own).


Books, also from Sweden.  (I usually bring home coffee-table books as a souvenir of my travels.  Such lovely reminders of visits -- and very packable!  My sister, though seeks out cookbooks to bring home.  This time, I followed suit!)


I brought a pair of fulled mittens from Finland. . .


and a wool shawl from Russia.


My sister and I fell hard for the Baltic Amber jewelry, and each of us bought multiple pieces to bring home.  Here are my rings (not usually worn together!).  They're such delightful reminders of our trip.


I went a little crazy in Estonia.  I had been admiring the style of the Scandinavian women we saw on the streets of Sweden and Finland.  Linen.  Layers.  Simple.  Lovely.  And when I saw things in the shops of Estonia, I had to have them!

I got a long, linen vest (handknit) and a convertible shawl-thing (wool; also handknit).


Lovely.  And the closest things to "yarn" I saw!


The kind of Estonian lace. . . that suits my style!  Not too fancy; lovely in its simplicity.


I also picked up some scarves . . . because I loved their colors and textures.  (The blue wool scarf is from Sweden; the linen scarves are from Estonia.)


I also found this charming linen tote bag in an Estonian shop.  The buildings will always remind me of the fairy-tale charm of Estonia!


And in Copenhagen, I bought a pair of Royal Copenhagen coffee mugs.


(Which happens to be sitting on a hand-woven Swedish table runner.)


Let's just say. . . the Treasure Chest was not empty on our way home!

Get Lost in Copenhagen

At one point during our last full day in Copenhagen, my sister and I stopped in a little sourvenir shop (to purchase magnets; it's a family tradition), we saw a goofy little t-shirt with the slogan "Get Lost in Copenhagen."

And we laughed.

What we didn't know yet . . . is how appropriate that t-shirt would be.  Because we kind of DID get lost in Copenhagen!  (But not too badly.)

By this point in our travels, Di and I were SICK of TOURS!  Oh, we had been on some very informative, very well-done tours on this trip.  All of our tour guides were excellent.  We learned a lot.  But.  After St. Petersburg, we ditched the tour scene entirely (except for the canal trip) and just explored the ports on our own.

We took the shuttle bus from the ship . . . which dropped us off here . . .


in charming, picture-pefect Nyhavn -- the waterfront canal area of Copenhagen you often see in travel brochures.

It was wonderful!


Colorful buildings . . .


Wooden ships. . .


And charming restaurants and cafes everywhere!


(Note the blankets thrown over the chairs.  Most outdoor Scandinavian cafes have blankets for patrons who are chilly.  Even though it was July and the height of summer, the blankets were welcome when the sun ducked behind the clouds, or when a breeze came in off the water.  Blankets were everywhere -- and patrons really did use them!)


Without a tour guide, and too lazy to consult our tour books, we wandered the streets of Copenhagen somehwat aimlessly.


We wandered the Strøget (the world's longest pedestrian shopping street). . .


but much preferred the back alleys . . .


and the architecture . . .


and the side-street shop signs. . .


to the throngs of people shopping (in the same stores we can find in any large shopping area in the US).

Then, we headed out  . . . on foot. . . to find the Little Mermaid statue!

Along the way, we stopped for a better view of the Amalienborg Palace


and its impressive courtyard.


We had fun watching the guards. . . but missed seeing them "change."


We walked . . . and we walked . . . and we walked! 

Past the sand sculptures.  Past the Opera House.  Past the waterfront.  Past some churches.  Over a bridge or two.  Through a garden.


And, finally, there she was!


The Little Mermaid!

(And much smaller than you might imagine, actually.  She's kind of life-sized, so, basically, the same size as a normal woman there on the rock.)


It was at this point that I put my camera back in my camera bag.  I didn't take anther photo for the rest of the day.  (Sort of my own personal signal that the party was over.)  Then . . . we got kind of lost trying to walk back to our ship (because we were on the wrong dock).  So we had to double back and see everything all over again as we headed back for the shuttle bus!

Copenhagen was a lovely spot to be "lost" in . . . but, by this point, we were ready to pack up our bags . . . and head for home!


So ends my travelogue.  Hope you enjoyed hearing about my trip as much as I enjoyed re-living it through the blog.


Don't forget . . . leave a comment for a chance to win a prize!  Details here.  (The winner will be announced TOMORROW -- August 10.  Stay tuned!)


Altogether . . . An Altogether . . . A Most Remarkable. . .Place!

Do you remember this movie?


Another of my childhood favorites, for sure.  I've been enchanted with thoughts of Copenhagen since I was a little girl . . . as introduced to me by Danny Kaye.

The final port of our Scandinavian cruise . . . was Copenhagen

We landed in the evening.  Just in time. . . for a quick canal trip!


(I've decided that the best way to see a city. . . is from the water!)


The sun was already setting as we headed out in our little tour boat, but it takes a very long time for the sun to set at this time of year in Denmark, so we were able to enjoy a delightful introduction to the city.


There are so many unique structures in the Copenhagen skyline.  The spiral steeple of the Var Fresler Kirke, for example -- with spiral stairs climbing up the outside of the steeple.


And the dome of the beautiful Amalienborg Palace. . .


Or the modern and absolutely lovely Copenhagen Opera House.


We toured past the International Sand Sculpture Festival. . .


which was Most Awesome . . . but so hard to photograph from a moving boat!


It was peaceful and welcoming . . .


to be in among the boats along the canals of Copenhagen.


And, especially, when we spied the swans!


Which, of course, got me singing . . . there once was an Ugly Duckling. . .

What a lovely introduction. . .


to an altogether. . . an altogether. . . most remarkable city!



Did you know that Copenhagen is one of the world's most environmentally friendly cities?


We saw evidence of this everywhere!


Don't forget . . . leave a comment for a chance to win a prize!  Details here.

Summer Fun

No time for Ten on Tuesday blogging today. . . but I thought I'd share some summer fun instead.

Here's the latest longboarding video from Brian and his friends, Jamie and Brennan, up at the beach in Pentwater, Michigan.



And. . . see you tomorrow!

Baby Come Back!

Remember this one*? 

Baby come back. . .

As you know, I don't knit socks.  I have, of course.  Sure, I understand the charm of The Sock; I appreciate the portability of The Sock; and I firmly believe that Turning the Heel is the most magical thing in all of knitting.

But my Sock MoJo left long ago!

Any kind of fool could see. . .

Then, a couple of months ago, one of my co-workers asked me if I would knit a sample sock using one of her patterns and some new sock yarn from a local dyer.  For a booth at Stitches Midwest
Ummmm, I said. 
Just one, she said. 
Okay, I said. 
Just one, I said.
Thanks, she said.

I didn't want to, though.

First, I didn't like the look of the yarn.  Not my color.  Kind of boring-looking.  Second, the pattern has a futzy cable.  And ribbing.  And I don't like either one when it comes to socks.  Third, hand-knit socks just never seem to fit me right.  They're always too bulky.

But I said I would do it, so I cast on.

There was something in everything about you. . .


But once I got started, I discovered . . . that I LIKED the yarn.  A lot**.  (I'm pretty sure it's the touch of silk.)  And the ribbing . . . not so bad.  In fact, it helped the sock . . . FIT me.  (Still don't like futzy things - like cables - on socks, though.)

Baby come back, you can blame it all on me. . .


I cast on right away to make the second sock.

I was wrong, and I just can't live without you!


But now. . . one sock is gone.  Packed up to go to Stitches Midwest.

Baby come back!  (Ravelry details here.)


*Go waaaaay back.  1978.  But still infectious, non?

**Ummm.  Bought another skein and cast on for another pair.  No cable, though.

Just the Highlights

My lovely niece, Jessica, has come to Michigan for a quick visit.  I have to share her with my Mom and Dad. . . but it's nice to have her here for a few days!


Brian and I decided that Jes needed to see Chicago. . .  so the three of us took the train and headed out for 6 hours in the city!


Six hours in Chicago . . . is not much time at all.  I had a list of highlights, but we didn't even come close!  What DID we do?

"The Bean" (officially, Cloud Gate) in Millenium Park. . .


A quick walk down Michigan Avenue (no shopping, though; sadly, no time . . . ).


An introduction to the "rules" of Chicago hot dogs. . .


A spin around the Tribune Tower to discover the treasures of the world. . .


A moment to embrace the skyline. . .


And, of course, a taste of Chicago deep dish pizza!


We stopped to admire the river and the bridges. . .


and then hopped aboard the Chicago Architectural Foundation River Cruise!




And, with that. . . it was time to catch the train back to Kalamazoo!  Time flies (especially when the pizza takes over an hour to to arrive at your table. . .), but what a fun afternoon!

The Low Spot: Visby

The Low Spot. 

Every long trip has one.  You know.  The day that you're tired and cranky and just . . . out of sorts?

For both my sister and I, the Low Spot this trip . . . was Visby.  A charming little vacation town on the Swedish island of Gotland.

We landed at Visby following an entire day (and night. . . and part of the next day) at sea.  Somehow, both of us had neglected to notice that our itinerary included one very long stretch at sea.


Lovely as this scene may be, it gets a bit monotonous after a time.  ONE sister was particularly whiney and feeling restless because, at that point, she'd been away from home for two weeks and was getting rather sick of traveling.   The OTHER sister was particularly whiney and feeling restless because she had not packed enough books (and was forced to read a 2-star book. . . because that was all she had left), and hadn't brought ANY knitting at all. BOTH sisters were feeling the effects of the Indian buffet from the night before.  It seemed the day at sea would never end.

Finally, we landed in Visby!


Our spirits improved -- with a new city to explore!  (And another charming one, at that!)  So we ditched our tour and headed into town on our own (although still wishing we had avoided that Indian food).


What we didn't know . . . is that Visby is one of "the" Scandinavian vacation locations -- and it was peak vacation time.  (A translation in any language:  Crowded.)  Not only that . . . but it was Almedalsveckan 2012 (Almedalen Week -- celebrated each year during the first week of July with speeches, seminars, and political events all around the city; basically -- a political festival!).  And we walked right in to the middle of it all!  Crowds; unbelievable crowds!  Gatherings and speeches and news crews and lines.  Everywhere.

Low spot!

We worked our way through the Almedalsveckan crowds. . . and headed up into the charming, more quiet parts of town.


Along the way, we stumbled into a botanic garden. . .


which worked its magic . . .


to calm and settle.


We walked around outside the Ringmuren (Ring Wall) that still encircles the city.


We visited some ruins of medieval churches . . .


but most local buildings were in use -- for speeches and seminars.


Visby was certainly charming!


But definitely our Low Spot.  I took fewer photos in Visby than anywhere else.  It is the only place we visited that we did not do any shopping . . . or stop for a coffee or glass of wine or a beer.


You know what that means?  I think . . . I'll have to go back someday, and experience Visby without a Festival (and, next time I'll avoid Indian food the night before!).


Don't forget . . . leave a comment for a chance to win a prize!  Details here.

Let's Pretend . . . We're in Estonia

Once, many years ago, I was visiting my sister with my kids (they were probably about 6 and 3 at the time) at her house.  We were preparing lunch in her kitchen for the five of us. . . Erin and Brian and I, and my sister and her daughter, Jes (who would've been 7).  My sister and I overheard this conversation between Erin and Jes. . .

Jes:  Let's pretend . . . we're cousins. . .            [Ummm.  They ARE.]
Erin: . . . and we're fixing lunch . . .                    [Ummm.  There WERE.]
Jes: . . . with our moms . . .                                   [Ummm.  Yeah.]
Erin: . . . and they're sisters...                               [Ummm.  Duh.]

My sister and nearly died with laughter.  (Behind our daughters' back, mind you!)  I mean . . . let's pretend . . .

We revisit that little scenario often, my sister and I.  It never fails to delight us.

Which is why. . .


we giggled out loud . . .


as we wandered the streets of Tallinn, Estonia . . .


saying to each other . . .


Let's pretend. . .


we're sisters. . .


and we're walking the streets. . .


of Estonia. . .


Oh!  Yeah!


We ARE!!!!

I don't think that I've ever visited a more charming place than Estonia!


It felt like . . . walking into a fairy tale!


It truly did.


Magical and mystical and medieval.


Perhaps my favorite place.  (Although, really. . . it's too hard to choose.)


Let's pretend. . .

Note for knitters:  I saw lots and lots of beautiful Estonian lace and handknit items in the shops.  But not one skein of yarn.  Not. One.


Don't forget . . . leave a comment for a chance to win a prize!  Details here.