Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday Craft Update -- August 29

Got to show off my new toy. After having the Addi Click set on my wishlist for a couple of years, I finally ordered it from Elann. Over the past 10 years, I've been slowly building up my collection of Addi Turbo circular needles, in a variety of lengths and sizes. I even have duplicates of some, as I prefer using two 60cm circulars to double-pointed-needles for small numbers of stitches. Though they cost two to three times as much as basic plastic or metal needles, they are worth every penny. They are super-slick, the joins are smooth and best of all, the cords don't kink up. There's a reason these are called "Turbo"!

Two weeks ago, I needed an extra-long 6mm needle for an afghan I'm working on. I have a set of Denise interchangeable needles which have served me well over the years, but I'm such a knitting snob now that I can't bring myself to use plastic unless I'm desperate. So then came the dilemma: should I get the 120mm that I really needed, or the 80mm as it had more potential for future use, or a 100mm as a compromise? After agonizing over this decision for a while, I chose the obvious solution, which was to get all of them.

The Addi Click set has pairs of tips from 3.5mm to 10mm, and it comes with three cords in 60cm, 80cm and 100cm sizes. There's even an extra connector to combine two of the cords together to get an extra long circular needle. I tried the needles out as soon as they arrived, and I'm happy to report that they are as wonderful as I thought they'd be. The tips and joins are as smooth as the regular Addi Turbos, and the parts connect easily. I sure wish I could meet the engineers on their design team!

It was a big purchase, but I do intend to be knitting for the next 40 years. In response to this statement, a friend said, "Not 50?" Well, why not 50 indeed?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Eating in Italy

I can't end my series of blog posts on our Italy vacation without talking about the food. When we arrived in Italy, we expected the food to be spectacular. The truth is, while the food was always good, it was spectacular mostly when we paid a large sum of money for it. Food seemed mundane and overpriced in a number of restaurants we visited in Florence and Venice. On the other hand, we had excellent meals at reasonable prices in Bologna. Bologna is known for its cuisine, but perhaps the fact that it isn't overrun with tourists in August also contributed to this. We enjoyed pasta with wild boar sauce, Parma ham, grilled Italian eggplant, and other local specialties including pasta Bolognese (Kate's favourite).

Coffee, juice and soft drinks were generally exorbitantly priced. However, beer and wine were always good and easily available. The best value, though, was the gelato, which the kids and I indulged in every single day of our trip. For most of the trip, I stuck with the lighter fruit gelato (SO much tastier than the fruit-flavoured ice-cream we get at home) but on our last day in Bologna, I couldn't resist this marscarpone-ricotta-cocoa concoction, truly a meal in a tiny cup! We also had great food on the Venetian Lido, where we stayed in a suite with a kitchenette. We discovered a little deli with excellent salads, cold meats and pastries. I bought a lot of marinated octopus there.

Just when I thought there was a danger that the kids would turn into snobby gourmands with all this good food, they reassured me by attacking the Haribo display at the duty-free store in the Munich airport. Somehow I ended up having to lug three kilos of this German jelly candy through Munich and Pearson airports. I opted to bring home chocolates from Bologna instead, and Todd is enjoying his bottle of grappa.


Our final stop in Italy was Bologna. This city seems to shut down in August but there was enough for us to do to fill the day before our flight out the next morning, and enough restaurants open that we were able to get several excellent meals. Not as much of a tourist magnet as Florence and Venice, Bologna still had plenty to see for those interested in history and architecture, and it was mercifully less crowded.

We started the day by climbing the Asinelli Tower, and from the top, we were able to get magnificent views of the city.

We then walked around the buildings of the university (the oldest continuously operating one in the world) before visiting the archeological museum, shown in the photos above. Bologna has an impressive number of museums, and most of them are free to the public. However, finding one that is open a good number of hours during the day in the month of August is another matter.

The thing I liked best about Bologna (apart from the food) was simply walking around the streets, soaking in the atmosphere of this very, very old city. It was a great way to end our Italian vacation.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Vivaldi and Venice

More from our vacation .... Why, you might ask, did we decide to have a vacation in Venice? Well, it all started six years ago, when we bought a CD for Kate, Vivaldi's Ring of Mystery. This is an audiobook, set to Antonio Vivaldi's music, about an orphan girl who arrives at the Ospendale della Pieta in Venice. There, she and the other girls are taught to play in an orchestra by Vivaldi. Eventually, after a series of adventures that take place on the streets and canals of Venice, she discovers that she is the long-lost granddaughter of the Duke. The story is fictional, but Vivaldi really did teach orphaned and abandoned girls at this church (shown in the photo above) for several decades of his life.

Kate and Julia both loved this story, but Kate was particularly taken with it and asked for violin lessons, which we started shortly afterward, when she was six-and-a-half. As regular readers of this blog will know, she is still playing today and taking lessons from the same excellent teacher with whom she started. Not content with just violin lessons, she has been asking every year if we could vacation in Venice. A couple of years ago, a friend brought home a souvenir from the city, and that made her even more eager to go. Finally, we decided it was time for all of us to see Italy!

The Ospendale was our first visit after we arrived in Venice. To our dismay, it was closed throughout the entire length of our stay and was to reopen hours after our scheduled departure by train. This should have been no surprise, as our guidebook warned us that churches and museums (other than the most important and popular ones) set their opening hours in a rather unpredictable way, and these are prone to change according to the whim of the caretakers. Still, we were able to visit this shrine for violinists and admire the historic building from the outside.

As consolation, we were able to visit the Museum of Music, housed in the San Maurizio church and open to the public free of charge. There, we read about Vivaldi's personal life and many accomplishments and saw a number of beautiful instruments, many of which were from the 16th and 17th centuries.

Finally, I have to mention the Bridge of Sighs, not because it has any direct connection to Vivaldi or music, but because it is mentioned in a memorable scene from our beloved audiobook. The bridge connects the interrogation rooms in the Doge's palace to the prisons. It is named for the sighs of condemned prisoners as they take their last look at the beautiful Venetian lagoon through the little windows in the enclosed bridge before entering the prisons.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


After our too-brief stay in Florence, we boarded Trenitalia for Venice. Venice was hot, humid and crowded but truly as beautiful as I expected it would be. One of our first activities was to take a boat ride down the Grand Canal.

Instead of staying in the city of Venice itself, we booked rooms at a hotel on the nearby island of Lido. We got ourselves a three-day Vaporetto (water bus) pass and used this reliable and efficient service to travel between Lido and Venice (a mere 15-minute ride). We also visited Murano, another of the Venetian Lagoon islands, well-known for its glass making.

Despite the heat, my favourite activity in Venice was just walking through the maze of streets and bridges. We'd wind through narrow alleys, getting completely lost, and then we'd suddenly stumble upon some magnificent cathedral or monument in the middle of a large piazza.

Of course, we had to go for the requisite over-priced gondola ride, but how could we leave Venice without that experience?

After a first exhausting day touring Venice, Todd and I left the kids to recuperate at our resort in Lido. We enjoyed over-priced drinks on the famous Piazza San Marco after touring the Basilica with its stunning mosaics. The next day, we visited the Doge's Palace, which is filled with paintings and sculptures by famous Italian artists. Kate was more impressed by the palace's prisons, though. Later that day, Todd took care of the kids while I made a brief visit to the Accademia gallery to see more Venetian art.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


The first few days of our Italian vacation were spent in Florence, or Firenze. We stayed at a comfortable little hotel a block from the famous Duomo. We walked all over the city, including the 414 steps up the Campanile tower to relish the views of Florence, as in the photo above (taken by Kate).

Our first trip was to the fantastic Uffizi museum, where we saw Botticellis (including Birth of Venus and Primavera), Titians, Rafaels and more. The picture above was taken in the Piazza della Signoria outside the Palazzo Vecchio. The next day, we headed over to the Pitti Palace, the former home of the Medicis, where we saw another overwhelming collection of artwork. We were amazed by the sheer number of masterpieces that seemed to be displayed more or less haphazardly all over the palace walls.

Earlier in the year, in preparation for this trip, I'd reread E. M. Forster's Room with a View, which has the wonderful chapter, "In Santa Croce with no Baedeker." So, of course, I had to visit this church, which contains the tombs of Michaelangelo, Machievelli, Rossini, Galileo (shown in the photo above) and many others. Todd, being an electrical engineer, was particularly thrilled to see plaques for Marconi and Fermi as well.

I loved the art and architecture in Florence, and our three days there were way too short. I'll have to find a way to return one day!