Thursday, November 20, 2014

Prague

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Ok so if you're sick of my travel posts, don't worry, THIS IS THE LAST ONE. It's kind of long, but I have a lot to share about Prague!

On the final weekend I was in Berlin, my brother had a three day weekend, so he, I and his lovely girlfriend Gesine took a trip to Prague. I've always heard people say, oh I love Prague! But no one is every really that specific about why, so I wasn't even sure I was going to go. I'm so glad we did!

We rode the train from Berlin, which was a 4-5 hour trip. It was a very nice ride, going through sunflower fields, and then through a beautiful mountainous river gorge with the occasional castle ruin. Also can I just have a moment of joyful tribute to rail travel? We need more of that here.

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We stayed in an AirBnb apartment that was absolutely perfect. It was only about a 7 minute walk right to the Old Town Square, which is the historic/tourist center of town, and definitely cheaper than the hotels in the same area.

To set the tone, let's start with what we came upon on our first walk to the square:



Apparently I decided to stop recording right when they got rowdy. But here's another video of these same guys playing [with better shots of their ELF SHOES] if you need more.

Prague is an old, old city that used to be one of the most influential centers of power and culture in Europe. It was the capital of the no-longer-existing Bohemian Empire and, for a time, the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. In the 14th century it was basically THE place to be in Europe. And unlike many of Europe's other large cities, it did not see a lot of fighting or destruction during either World War, so much of the old architecture remains.

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Here is the Old Town Square at night. Up at the tops of those spires are little windows in little rooms - you can see them lit up. So I suppose that's where the wizards live.

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The Old Town area is not big at all - you can walk from one end to the other in 20 minutes - but it is full of those narrow, twisting, completely unplanned streets you find in very old towns. Every time we were in between activities or food, we just walked around, and every time we found new little streets or discovered another pocket with a cafe or bar. Look at this tiny little mint green hotel!

prague tiny hotel

One of the places we found and ducked into was the Prague State Opera House, which [google image search will help confirm this] was like ducking into the set of Amadeus. There was a formal event going on but we just darted around the lobby avoiding important looking people.

prague opera

This is the Prague Astronomical Clock, a main tourist attraction on the square. It was built in 1410, and it's still working. It was quite a feat for its day: it mechanically keeps track of a bunch of different things in unison, like time, sunrise/sunset, and the positions of the planets. It's pretty amazing when you think about it. Legend has it that the maker of the clock was purposely blinded on order of the Prague Council so he couldn't make one for anyone else.

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On Saturday we went to the Prague Castle, which is another one of the main touristy things to do. It's huge! And beautiful and amazing and up on this incredible hill. But it was also kind of a cluster. When we got there they were out of audio tours AND guided tour spots, so we just walked around with a teeny map. There are barely any signs and so many parts without any kind of explanation or historical info. And when I'm in a medieval castle, GIVE ME ALL THE HISTORIES.

This is Ian buying some kind of Czech flute thing on the Charles Bridge. In the background is the hill of Prague Castle.

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The main spires you see when you look up at the castle hill actually belong not to the castle but to a massive cathedral inside the castle complex called St. Vitus Cathedral. It is spectacular and giant. There have been a few cathedrals on this site dating back to 930, [including one built by King Wenceslas, as in, the Christmas song], but this one was started in 1344.

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The inside had the most intricate and luminous stained glass windows I've ever seen. Here's a closeup of one. That's probably ten vertical feet in the picture, and the whole thing was easily two and a half times taller. And there were dozens of them.

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The outside had the world's most disturbing gargoyles. Way to be freaky, 14th century.

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By the way, if you think the subtitle of this post should be "Devon Takes Many Rear Lurker Photos of Ian and Gesine's Romantic Prague Getaway", well then I wouldn't wholly disagree with you. But I promise it wasn't like that in real life. That's just what happens when you're always walking behind your vacation comrades.

Speaking of comrades, on Saturday night we ate at a restaurant on the recommendation of our AirBnb host called Lokal. She said it was a good place to go if you wanted an authentic Czech restaurant food the way it would have been 30 years ago - in other words, before the fall of the Iron Curtain.

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I know the food isn't very pretty to look at but it was soooo good. I had some kind of pot roast and gravy situation with bread dumplings and potato dumplings. The beer was called 'cream beer', and basically was like cream soda and beer got together and made something that tasted a bit like toasted marshmallows.

The red stuff is beef tartar to spread on buttered garlic toast, which was also really delicious. Gesine, who was born in East Berlin, said that a popular East German party appetizer was a ball of beef tartar with a bunch of cracker sticks poking out of it so that it looked like a hedgehog. I enjoyed that tidbit immensely.

Gesine brought a disposable camera for each of us to use, which was such a good idea! I hadn't used one in forever, and it actually made me miss them. The almost-painful thumb cranking, the satisfying spring loaded shutter click. And I'd kind of forgotten how pretty and atmospheric film is. Plus you actually have to think about taking a picture since you don't have very many.

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I don't know what's happening in this picture [sorry Ian] but the castle looks good.

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It's true that there's not one specific thing that stands out as the reason to go to Prague, but you really do just love it. I think it's mostly because of the feel of the place - it's enchanting. It almost seems like a set. At night, everything is lit, and soft yellow light bounces off cobblestones and gilded eaves. The castles and cathedrals look like paintings from a fairy tale. Even the crowds, which are usually a turnoff for me, add to it somehow: a multitude of languages blend into the single, buzzing energy of happy people, caught together under the spell of a medieval city.

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I'd totally go back.






Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sachsenhausen

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About a half hour outside Berlin in the small, quaint town of Oranienburg, there was a concentration camp called Sachsenhausen [SAHK-sen-how-zen] from 1936-1950. It was built by the Nazis and later used by the Soviets, and some 30,000 people lost their lives there.

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It is now a memorial and museum. I set aside a day to go there by myself and would highly recommend anyone else to do the same if you're in the area. It's a very easy train ride to the end of the S-Bahn S1 line. It is free to go and you can rent an audio tour for 3 euros. There are guided tours too, but I honestly preferred wandering around alone. It's that sort of place.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Travel Sewing and Berlin Recap

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I thought that since I made such a big deal about posting my travel sewing plans, I ought to do a recap post about what I actually got done and what just didn't happen. And then I'll share some of my pictures from Berlin [and a lil video]!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Kwik Sew 3892 (plus a hat!)

Kwik Sew 3892 and Purl Bee hat

So I'm realizing as the weather turns colder that ten years in LA has left me with a pretend winter wardrobe. Like things that seem like they would be 'warm' - oh look! it has an alpine deer on it! - when in actuality they aren't warm at all. So I've been trying to winter it up around here.

Kwik Sew 3892 and Purl Bee hat

This is another Kwik Sew 3892 [previous one here]. The fabric is this quilted knit from JoAnn's. JoAnn, that she-devil, she sucked me in with her fall knits - some of them are actually pretty cool looking! This is a soft jersey on top, and then it's quilted to a slightly stretchy polyester backing. It's neato, although I must say I've only washed it twice and it's really starting to pill and get messy looking. I guess you get what you pay for, except in a way not really because this stuff was marked at $20/yard before JoAnn's 40% off pricing trick. So you get what you...chain-store-shop for? I don't know.

Kwik Sew 3892 and Purl Bee hat

I bought the ribbing at JoAnn's too, although I'm really looking forward to investigating some of the ribbing sources in Jen's recent post on Grainline! The fabric was way too thick to do self bands, and the ribbing color choice was limited so black contrast it was. The neckline is already a bit scooped on the pattern but I must have really stretched out this one as I was adding the ribbing because it's a lot wider than the first one I made. It's also mysteriously larger overall. I feel a bit like a marshmallow in it, but a warm and toasty marshmallow.

Kwik Sew 3892 and Purl Bee hat

Speaking of warm and toasty, the hat I'm wearing is a free pattern from the Purl Bee called the Simple Pleasures hat, which is the best travel project ever because you don't have to keep track of any rows except a few at the very end. I actually finished two while I was on my trip. This yarn is Flicker by Berocco. You can't tell in the pictures but it's actually slightly sparkly! and so soft! I've had two skeins in my yarn stash forever and it felt SO GOOD to make something out of them.

Kwik Sew 3892 and Purl Bee hat

These pictures were taken in Berlin, near the Berlin Wall Memorial, but this is not the actual wall, just some graffiti nearby [although I think it may have been historic and somehow related]. I thought I was going to take some pictures in front of the wall, but once I got there I felt weird about it, even though there were people doing handstands against it and I'm pretty sure a headshot session going on. It just felt wrong - and a little selfish somehow - to use such a symbol of oppression as a backdrop for trivial things like sweatshirt ribbing and JoAnn's fall knits. And not just a symbol, but the actual, real thing that did the oppressing.

This could have also been because I was at the actual memorial - nothing like some grainy photos of perished souls to make you feel silly and trivial. There's another section of the wall that's been turned into a giant street art display called the East Side Gallery that would have probably had a different feel.

Kwik Sew 3892 and Purl Bee hat

I'm still going through my trip photos - there actually aren't too many - and in a few days I'll do a post for anyone interested!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Thread Theory Strathcona Henley

Thread Theory Strathcona Henley

I knew I wanted to make my brother Ian something as a present to say thanks for letting me monopolize his Berlin floor space with an air mattress/exploded suitcase for ten days. I already had the Thread Theory Strathcona pattern, and I already had this fabric, so motorcycle henley it was!

Thread Theory Strathcona Henley

The awesome jersey is from Wanderlust Fabrics. I was a teensy bit worried that it might be a little too theme-y or cutesy for a guy's shirt, but I squashed those teensy worries and forged ahead, because I thought it was really cool fabric. Ian is a big fan of motorcycles, and actually has a vintage BMW back in the states that I'm sure he pines for daily.

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my dad and my brother

In the end I think my teensy worries did in fact deserve to be squashed, because the motorcycles are small and and subtle enough to be ok!

Thread Theory Strathcona Henley

The Strathcona came together pretty easy. This was the first placket I've done on a knit, and while it took a bit of extra coaxing to get the fabric to feed during the topstitching, it wasn't too bad. Fit wise, I just kind of guessed and cut a S, and it fits great. It's nice and slim and modern around the middle. The sleeves ended up getting shortened 1" because in my bleary, half-asleep, last-minute sewing episode I fused a non-stretchy interfacing to the hem edge and it was no bueno. But I thought they looked kinda long anyway [or so I told myself] so I just cut them off and re-hemmed.

One slightly weird thing about the pattern to note is that the front and back pattern pieces are full pieces with a right and left that you're supposed to cut through a single layer, even though the right and left appear to be the same. There's probably a reason for this that I wasn't seeing, but it could have taken a lot less paper if they were both just on-the-fold pieces. I actually did end up folding them in half and cutting them that way because it was easier, quicker and took up less space.

I also cut the neckband cross grain instead of along the non stretchy length of grain as the piece indicated, although to be honest I didn't even notice it was labeled that way until after I made it and I was googling to see other people's Strathcona's and saw it mentioned. Sewing autopilot!

These pictures were taken on a narrow street in Prague. It was quite a painful experience for Ian, and I'm glad that I was able to twist his arm enough to get a few shots!

Thread Theory Strathcona Henley
Thread Theory Strathcona Henley

Bleerrgghh, so embarrassed.

I would totally make another Strathcona for him, although I don't know if he'll ever accept another one for fear of having to get his picture taken again...

Thread Theory Strathcona Henley

And now it's time to pick the winner for the Fancy Tiger Sailor Top pattern giveaway!


The winner is Carrie with comment #46. Thank you all so much for your comments! I LOVED reading all of your fabric choices, since we all know that picking fabric is one of the best parts about sewing.

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