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Farewell, 2014

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

That pretty much describes how I feel about the year that just came to a close. Sure, some good things happened, but the overwhelming feeling about the year is one of stress and things not going according to plan.

Oh, it started with promise. I was working on the first module in an online creative fibre and spinning course, Journey for the Golden Fleece. I was taking multiple classes at the gym: spinning (the other kind), Body Art (a fusion of disciplines, similar to a combination of yoga and pilates), a weight training programme, and weekly TRX training classes. A new-to-me floor loom had recently arrived and was a whole new fibery world was beckoning. Our social life was thriving, though we were aware that there would be changes afoot. You see, 2014 marked the time for my husband to be transferred out of the job in Budapest. We had applied for another position in Europe and were hopeful, but the reality is that few people are awarded back-to-back overseas postings. Life was looking pretty good.

The first twinges in my hip caused me a bit of concern, as I’d had a previous injury, but I modified my workouts a bit and kept on going. Eventually, however, I had to cut back on a number of my classes and add a more rigorous stretching regimen. It didn’t help; rather, things got worse. By Easter, I could barely walk without severe pain and limping. Visits to medical professionals revealed that the grinding sensation in my hip joint was caused by coxarthrosis, but that there was little to be done. Much of the past year has been spent in considerable pain, alleviated only after extensive chiropractic treatments.

The dominant event of 2014 was our overseas move. Though we were told fairly late in the winter that we would be returning to Canada, there was some question as to where, exactly, we would be living. Official notice didn’t arrive until mid-April, much later than typical due to budget issues in the government. So, instead of returning to the Kingston, Ontario, area where we own a home, we would be moving to Ottawa. This notice caused all sorts of angst while we sorted out how to deal with all the ramifications. A trip to Ottawa to locate a house to rent took place in May, and the ball was rolling. An overseas move is much more complicated than most people can imagine, as there are detailed household inventories to prepare (both for insurance purposes and Customs clearance), movers to deal with, and arrangements for the relocation of our dogs. The latter turned out to be far more complex (and expensive) than we had expected, as we could not have them travel with us. It seemed that every week brought a new challenge! Stress, we had it. We departed Budapest at the end of July and occupied a hotel until early September, when our belongings finally arrived in Canada. We were home!

If you think that this was the end of the moving saga, you would be mistaken. There was a considerable amount of damage to our property, mostly due to improper packing and inferior packing materials. The resulting claim has not yet been settled. Our car, shipped separately, did not arrive until several weeks after our household goods, also with some damages. And, for the trifecta, an adult child announced in early September that he was in crisis and would have to move back in with Mom and Dad. He continues to be an ongoing concern.

There have been some high notes in the midst of all the craziness this past year. I warped and wove my first pieces on the floor loom, as well as designed and made a woven wrap with handspun yarn on the rigid heddle loom. The man and I both took a weaving workshop this fall. We purchased a second floor loom at the end of November for weaving more complex pieces, hopefully as part of a small business endeavour to come. And we attended classes at New York Sheep and Wool Festival in October, where we also had the joy of meeting a number of people only known to us through Ravelry previously, some for as long as six years. I would really like to go back again in 2015. We have continued to enjoy cycling on a regular basis, both before and after the move. We found a terrific fitness facility close to our house in Ottawa. My husband has settled in well to his new position at work and has reconnected with many colleagues whom he has not seen in years. Our eldest son was married a few days before Christmas, in a lovely service that we were able to attend through the wonders of technology and Skype. One of our granddaughters held the laptop so we could see the ceremony. The marriage has increased our family by four and we are looking forward to spoiling all six grandchildren when we all get together! Of course, we have also been able to see friends and family that we have not seen in the years were were living so far from home.

Okay, in retrospect, maybe it wasn’t the most awful year on the books. Still, I’m glad to have it over and done with. May 2015 be a wonderful one for all of us!

Provence on Two Wheels

One year ago this week, my husband and I were on the most fabulous vacation ever. I had a blog post almost ready to publish and got busy with something else, forgetting to finish up. This seems an appropriate time, as I reminisce about pain-free activities and the carefree feeling of cycling through the French countryside. So here goes:

Can you see the happy?

Can you see the happy?

It took months of exploring options and discussing to figure out the perfect way for the man and I to celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary. After all, one doesn’t do this every year. As duty called the man away for the last two significant anniversaries, we thought it high time to celebrate in style. A friend suggested combining our love of travel with that of fitness, something both of us participate in regularly, and consider a cycling tour. Hmm. An interesting idea, though aside from spinning class, it has been decades since my bottom spent any time on a bicycle seat. Plenty of online research ensued, both to find the perfect location for our holiday and the tour company that would provide us with the experience of a lifetime. And the training began. Oh boy, did the training begin! But it was worth every second as we were well-prepared for what awaited us. The company recommended by our friend, The Chain Gang Cycle Tours, offers cycling holidays in Italy, France and Devon, UK. We had visited Provence briefly a number of years ago and have always wanted to return, so it was a logical choice.

I was more than a bit nervous as we set off from our charming pension in Avignon. Though we had spent months in preparation, I was unsure of my ability to keep up with the others as I was perhaps the least experienced rider of the group. And I was also leery of cycling in traffic. My fears proved unfounded as the French drivers were courteous and politely shared the road. My confidence increased with the realization that I was among the fitter members of our small group and would have no trouble handling the pace. We started with a fairly flat route from Avignon to Chateauneuf de Pape, where we had a lovely lunch. (Did I mention that the food on this trip was incredible? Kudos to Bernard and his team for their excellent research.)

Lunch a la Provençal

Lunch a la Provençal

We then headed to what would be the first winery of the trip for a tasting. The floor of the reception area has some transparent bits to show the “soil” that the renowned vines of Chateauneuf du Pape grow in….small boulders to you and I. After a sampling, we hopped back onto our bikes to ride to Orange. Altogether we cycled a smidge over 43 km, a nice warm up for the rest of the week. Orange boasts a spectacular Roman theatre and triumphal arch, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which we toured the following morning before resuming our tour. Very cool!

The second day of cycling takes us into Languedoc, on the other side of the Rhone river. Our goal is the medieval town of Uzes, some 50 km away, via the back roads that run through rosé wine region. Our dinner in the old town taverne just happened to be one of the best meals of the trip. The courtyard setting was magical and the food incredible. Yes, there was local wine, as there was with every dinner throughout the week. Unfortunately, my photos fail to do any of it justice.

The next day is a slightly longer route, 57 km, from our hotel just outside Uzes to the port of Beaucaire on the Rhone. Here is a shot of the gang at our coffee stop en route:

Our intrepid cyclists

Our intrepid cyclists

We set off the third morning along tiny back roads that one would never find without a guide. The highlight of the day is our picnic lunch alongside a Roman aquaduct. The scenery around the Pont du Gard is nothing short of breathtaking. The aquaduct itself is 275 metres long and 48 metres high, and is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. I confess to quite a thrill as I cycled my way across it.

From the Pont du Gard

From the Pont du Gard

From the ground

From the ground

Late in the afternoon, we arrive at our destination in Beaucaire, with time to spare for a swim or relaxation before dinner. Another amazing meal was enjoyed, appropriately so because we are celebrating a birthday, complete with a surprise sparkling dessert.

Happy birthday to me!

Happy birthday to me!

The next day of cycling sees us ascending some rather steep hills as we head across the Rhone and into the Alpilles, our sights set on Les Baux de Provence. The long climb up to the fortress was brutal, but we all make it without suffering the indignity of walking our bikes up. Every single breathless moment was worth it though.

Well worth the climb!

Well worth the climb!

IMG_1684IMG_1682Later in the afternoon, we stopped at Domaine Mas de la Dame for a tasting of their outstanding wines. This is the winery immortalized in a painting by Vincent Van Gogh when he travelled the region in the 1880’s.  We would see a number of plaques commemorating the sites of specific paintings done by Van Gogh, particularly near Glanum where the asylum was located. Glanum itself was incredible and we spent a happy bit of time wandering the site of the ancient town. From there, we rode into St. Remy en Provence to spend overnight.

Day five of the tour is a long one….60 km of cycling. In a hilly environment. I’d thought the road to Baux was tough, but it had nothing on the climb into Rousillon at the end of the day. Talk about sore legs! Our rest stops in the sleepy villages of the Lubéron yielded some interesting exploration, as one of our members was doing a little geocaching en route. One such cache led us down a back alley that seems to take us back in time.IMG_1702IMG_1705The ochre cliffs of Rousillon seemed to rise up from nowhere, after a long steady uphill climb in a forested area. Jaw-dropping scenery no matter which way one looks!

Yes, it really is that colour.

Yes, it really is that colour.

IMG_1717Of course, once you ride up, there is the inevitable coast down. It was fantastic….until you saw the next hill rise up ahead. The climb to Gordes was only doable because of a night to recuperate. I mean, seriously! Look at that hill:

After the descent

After the descent

The reason for smiles is that speedy return to the bottom. (Though I’m afraid that I’m a bit of a chicken and hit the brakes when the speedometer reads 50 km/h!) We are only ten kilometres into our last day of cycling at this point. We still have over 50 to go. One of the highlights of the day is our stop at Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, an absolutely charming town located amongst many river channels.IMG_1729We enjoy a lovely saunter along this part of the river before heading back to our bikes, on our way back to Avignon. The quiet roads give way later to bustling city streets as we enter the outskirts of the former Papal centre. Wow! I had no idea that Avignon was so large. I would have liked to have had more time to explore, but our arrival in mid-afternoon only gave us an opportunity to check out the old part of the city in the vicinity of the Papal Palace.IMG_1734IMG_1732

The Palace itself is most impressive. Built in the fourteenth century, a total of seven popes were based here. We did walk through the beautiful gardens that form part of the grounds, from which we could see the bridge immortalized in the childrens’ song.

Sur la pont....

Sur la pont….

After taking a refreshment break, it was back to the bicycles to ride in rush hour traffic across the river and up the hill to Villeneuve les Avignon and our lodgings for the night. The great bike adventure had come to an end. If you are interested in seeing a map of our route, check here. According to the little odometer on my handlebar, we travelled a total of 310 km over the six days. Not bad, eh?

This was a fantastic trip in all respects. The route was well-planned so that all could handle the rigours of the terrain with a modest fitness level. Accommodations were well-researched, comfortable, and clean. The food was amazing – lots of regional specialties, variety, and local wines, and the lunches alternated between restaurant food and picnic fare that we picked up in villages along the way. The weather was perfect, not that anyone could have done much to influence it beyond appropriate scheduling. Finally, the company of our fellow cyclists was engaging and fun. I would highly recommend considering a cycle tour as an option for a vacation.

In fact, I would very much like to plan another one. The big question is: where?

Playing in the (Sour)Dough

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A chat on Ravelry about hot cross buns got the husband and I searching for recipes. Since we have a well-established sourdough starter, it only made sense to see if we could find something using it. But more than that, it had to have the right balance of spice and fruit with the evocative fragrance of memory. Our internet search netted this recipe from the Spice and More blog. It came together easily and the fragrance of the buns baking was mouthwatering.

Presenting “Not Cross Buns”:

YUM!

YUM!

Excuse me while I put the tea kettle on.

Welcome 2014!

As the festive season draws to a close, I would like to share with you some photographs taken over the past month or so in Budapest. Advent and Christmas are a very special time in this part of Europe and would not be complete without a mug of glühwein (mulled red wine, often with extra fortification added, such as pálinka) as you stroll around the outdoor market, enjoying the handmade crafts on display and live music. We were fortunate to have been invited to a St. Lucia celebration held by the Swedish community, which included a vocal performance of traditional music.

St. Lucia celebration

St. Lucia celebration

Enjoy this taste of the festivities!

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Kurtoskalacs - a spiral pastry cooked over hot coals, then brushed with butter and cinnamon sugar, nuts, or chocolate

Kurtoskalacs – a spiral pastry cooked over hot coals, then brushed with butter and cinnamon sugar, nuts, or chocolate

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New Year’s Eve concluded with several hours of fireworks. Fortunately, the fog that had been hovering for days lifted for our viewing enjoyment. I wish you and yours a happy start to the new year!

The Joys of Being a Tourist

How much fun it can be to play tourist in your own city! Over the past month, we have had the pleasure of visits from two sets of friends, hailing from different parts of North America. The first friends to visit, from Vermont, bicycled from Vienna before taking off the lycra and enjoying the sights of Budapest. Since the Buda Castle Wine Festival was in full swing when the arrived, naturally we headed there first to sample all sorts of vintages from various parts of the country. We tried whites, reds and rosés, finishing with some lovely sweet dessert wines that are the specialty of the Tokaji region of the country. And yes, we purchased several bottles to enjoy later at home. One of our favourites, a kékfrankos variety from Villányi, has already disappeared. Oops! We had a number of amazing meals, as our friends are experts in sniffing out the best culinary treats anywhere – they seem to have a sixth sense in choosing restaurants. A tour of the incredible opera house of Budapest was also on the agenda. Unfortunately, we weren’t permitted to take photographs inside, but I did get a shot of the ceiling of the entrance archway:

IMG_0569Compared to the interior, this is positively understated. But stunning nonetheless.

This week, a long-time friend from Alberta paid us a visit. Now I really got to play tourist….I walked the city with her almost as much as I walked in Paris a week ago (I’ll talk about this later, I promise). We toured around on the Hop On, Hop Off bus and took a boat tour on the Danube. I learned some fascinating tidbits of Hungarian history and ate some wonderful traditional dishes. Phew, I’m tired just thinking about all the running around!

In between playing host, we took a holiday ourselves. We completed a bicycle tour of Provence and then spent five days recovering in Paris. Now we have to get back to real life. The rest of October is going to be pretty dull in comparison!

A Celebration of Folk Art

A couple of months ago, I saw a photo on a Facebook friend’s feed. It was in Hungarian, so I had absolutely no idea what the event was, but in the photo I saw yarn that appeared to be on a loom, so I did a little investigating. A festival of folk arts, here in Budapest? Really? And the theme for this year is wool? Oh yes, I am definitely interested! It was held last weekend and turned out to be the most inspiring event I have attended in years. It took over the entirety of the Buda Castle grounds, including along the ramparts and down the street that snakes along the side of the hill outside the castle walls. I have never seen an event so large here. Or so well-attended. We went on Sunday, the second day, and were so blown away that a return visit was mandatory.

View from halfway up funicular to Clark Adam Ter. There is a dance troupe on the stage.

View from halfway up funicular to Clark Adam Ter. There is a dance troupe on the stage.

According to the brochure, there were over 800 artisans displaying their wares. What I didn’t realize was that not only would many be in traditional costume, but many were actually demonstrating their prowess at their art. Spinning, weaving, embroidery, felt making, woodworking, shoe making, metal work, pottery….the list goes on and on. There were even handmade musical instruments. I watched fashion shows and demonstrations of traditional dance and music. Those two days of walking around the castle grounds will be inspirational for months to come.

Photos? You want photos? Well, I did take rather a lot of them.

Bobbin lace making

Bobbin lace making

This potter was wearing the most fabulous embroidered shirt!

This potter was wearing the most fabulous embroidered shirt!

Tapestry weaving

Tapestry weaving

Traditional round looms

Traditional round looms

I was particularly impressed with the craftspeople who managed to take a time-honoured craft and move it into the present day. Love the clothing.

IMG_1514 IMG_1515 IMG_1516And the furniture. If I didn’t have a lovely dining set, this would be in my house now. By Canadian standards, it was cheap!

Stunning dining set

Stunning dining set

I have many more photos to show you, so I’ll stop there and reorganize myself. Suffice it to say, I am very sorry that we only discovered this event at this stage in our posting. By the time it rolls around again next August, we will have moved away from Hungary.

Bad Blogger!

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Yeah, I know. It has been months. I’ve thought about writing, honest I have. There are even two drafts written about trips to Rome and Prague. But then winter intervened. Not just “winter”, but the gray, icky, wet winter that just wouldn’t end. Even the SAD lamp wasn’t helping to pull me out of my funk. And then I just got busy.

So what have I been up to lately? Spinning up a storm. The annual Tour de Fleece competition on Ravelry coincides with the Tour de France, so we’ve only just finished that a couple of weeks ago. I did lots of spinning. Maybe not as much as last year, but still quite a bit. This is the product of my spinning wheels:
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My spindles were also pretty busy.

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IMG_1444I’ve made several pairs of socks, a shawl to give to a friend who visited me, and I have both a sweater and another pair of socks in progress. I’ve read several novels and work out at the gym at least three times a week. Phew! I’ve been busier than I thought.

We bought new bikes a little over a month ago. My old one was just giving me too many problems, despite having been to the repair guy more than once. Supposedly an 18 speed, it only would shift into 6. And the frame was a little off. A teenager once borrowed it without telling me and was in an accident. Sigh. So I bought a lovely new Trek bicycle, a hybrid model. So far, I’ve put almost 200 km on it….would be more, but as I tend to overdo things in the gym, pain gets in the way. It isn’t flat here, by any means. We are working up to much longer and more frequent outings….and we’ve sealed the deal by booking a cycling holiday in Provence in late September. The tour company says that you needn’t be über-fit, but I have a fear of showing up and being the slow-poke of the group. That would be horrible!

We are in the middle of a heat wave here, so I’ll raise my glass of water to all my faithful readers who have come to check up on me! I’ll get back at those drafts and see what lovely photos of our trips I can put out there for your enjoyment.