Leeds – first impressions

We have been in Leeds for a little over five hours and so far it has not disappointed. We arrived around 3:30 pm after an early rise in
Barcelona, flying to Manchester, and taking the train to Leeds. We were tired and all we could think of is having a nice cup of coffee. I had researched third-wave coffee shops in Leeds and one of them was not too far from the hotel but was closing soon. On our way there we were surprised by a sudden change in weather – the wind became cold and rain started pouring down. We rushed and finally found the spot I was looked for: The Opposite Cafe. Or rather a little kiosk location inside the Arcades. Despite being nearly closing time, the barista did not flinch when I ordered my cortado (called piccolo in the UK) “for here”. He took his time making it and it was definitely worth the wait – it was the best cortado I have had in a very long time. After savouring it, we rushed across the street to Marks & Spencer so I could get a cardigan, umbrella, and socks since the weather was much colder than I had packed for… The evening ended wit a perfect sunday roast at the Black Swan in The Calls area. The beer there was amazing and the service impeccable. Mark took excellent care of us and we are looking forward to being back. Tomorrow, will be a busy conference day, so back to the hotel for a good night of sleep is in order.

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Disclosure: our visit to Zaragoza was a day trip from Lleida, where I was attending a conference. While we did not have time to see much beyond the Palace of the Aljafería, the Basilica, Cathedral, a couple mudejar towers, and visit a tapas bar for lunch and discover a brand new café, our impression of Zaragoza could not have been better. It is definitely a city I would go back to!

#aljaferia #zaragoza #spain #aljamiado #nofilter

Click on the image to see the album

Among the highlights from our trip were:

  1. The Palace of the Aljafería – the oldest Muslim palace in Spain, a full 300 years older than the Alhambra in Granada. Many sections had to be restored and some parts were built after Zaragoza came under Christian rule in the 13th century but it is still very impressive.
  2. La Seo de Zaragoza – a truly impressive cathedral that is well worth a visit.
  3. La Clandestina Café - a very cute café that opened only a week prior. It had a lot of character and the folks who own it were extremely nice. It was the perfect place to chill out for a while before going back to Lleida. I would love to have a place like that in Girona to hang out at….
  4. Al Alba – a small tapas bar in the old city, it was a great place to try some of the local specialties, such as migas aragonesas.
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My impressions of Lleida is marked by the eery sound the storks made, nested high on the towers of the Seu Nova (the new see, i.e. the new cathedral). The clacking sound reverberated above the chirping of the thousands of swallows and pigeons competing for space. Lleida itself has clearly seen better days. The signs of economic depression are still clear. Boarded up shops and residential buildings dot the old city, where it is hard to go anywhere without be approached by a beggar or a street pedlar.

The medievalist in me was sad to see that so little of its medieval past has survived, especially in comparison with Girona. It isn’t difficult to understand why. The city held an important strategic position for any army invading Catalonia from the west and had suffered numerous attacks over the centuries. The armies of Pompey and Caesar met at Lleida in 49 BCE and many other armies would go through since then. Its impressive Gothic cathedral, built on top of a hill overlooking the region was commandeered as barracks in the early 18th century, during the war of Spanish Succession. It was a military building until the 20th century and my medievalist heart weeps when I think of the damage the building has suffered over the years of military use.

the largest cloister in gothic Europe #lleida #seuvella #gothic
Seu Vella in Lleida #lleida #seuvella #cathedral #gothic #cloister #landscape

The cathedral itself has been restored in recent years but the bullet marks and the lack of stained glass windows stand as witnesses to its troubled past. Luckily, the cloister, the largest in Gothic Europe, survives and the views from it are simply breathtaking.

Coming from a few weeks in Girona, a foodie paradise, food in Lleida was underwhelming until we discovered Xalet Suis, a family-run restaurant of the highest quality. At times, during the fifteen-minute walk under blazing sun from the Seu Vella to the restaurant, we wondered if it was indeed a good idea to go there for lunch. It was well worth the walk. Not only did Jordi Balasch receive us extremely well but his service was impeccable. We ordered a couple of salads and a plate of grilled vegetables (escalivada) to start. The idea was to share it among the four of us. He brought each dish separately, taking it away when we were done and bringing the next dish after so that we could savour each one on its own. It was obvious that Balasch and his children (his son and daughter are responsible for the kitchen) pay a lot of attention to the quality of the produce they chose. Each salad easily ranked as some of the best I ever had. As a main course, we chose arròs negre (rice cooked with calamari and its ink), made in house. That was served with the best alioli I ever had. Our visit to Xalet Suis was definitely the highlight of our visit to Lleida.

Xalet Suis, LleidaXalet Suis, Lleida

Xalet Suis, LleidaXalet Suis, Lleida

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Summer knitting projects

Knitting often conjure images of scarves, wooly sweaters, socks…. an activity perfectly suited to colder climates, which I supposed helps explain why I never met anyone who could knit growing up in Brazil. Many knitters take a break in the summer months since the thought of handling wool then is enough to make one’s hands begin to sweat. I find summer the perfect opportunity to switch to cooler fibers. Linens, cottons, bamboo, silk, all come out waiting to be turned into breezy shawls or summer tops.

My first summer as a serious knitter was dedicated to knitting a massive cotton wrap that took me nearly the whole summer. Last summer I did a cotton top (my first one!) and a linen shawl. I enjoyed my linen shawl so much that I planned to knit more linen shawls this summer and had at least three in mind for the three months I will be in Spain.

Considering how large my shawl collection is becoming….

My shawl collection is growing!


….I’m starting to think that perhaps *some* of that yarn earmarked for shawls should turn into summer tops.

But which one? They are all so nice! Here are four waiting to see which I shall pick:

Fathom Harvill’s Coachella top

@Fathom Harvill

Bristol Ivy’s Linun Tee

© Knitscene/Harper Point

Melanie Berg’s Otherside

Cecily Glowik MacDonald’s Nyanen Tee

© Carrie Bostick Hoge

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Ideal project bags

My favourite project bags are Tom Bihn stuff sacks. What I really like about them is that I can clip them to the handles of my purse.

stuff sack

Unfortunately, I only have two and of the small variety. I occasionally knit something larger than a fingering-weight shawl and ordering just a couple small items from Tom Bihn from Canada can be very expensive.  I’ve since bought or made a variety of cotton-fabric bags but found those to not protect my knitting enough and they were not so easy to clip onto my bags.

Thanks to Caroline, at Eweknit, I finally found a solution I can acquire locally. Meet MEC’s pack rat, which come in a variety of sizes. Made of a very light fabric that is tough and waterproof, it locks via a rolltop closure that leaves no extra fabric.

MEC pack rat

It clips nicely to the handles/straps of my purses and my knitting needles are safely out of reach from my cats.

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Since I finished my summer top ahead of schedule and I have two conferences coming up, including one that will involve a fair amount of commuting, I decided to start another summer top. This time, I’ll be making Waterlily by Meghan Fernandes, published in the Spring edition of Pom Pom magazine. I came across the exact yarn Fernades used for this pattern and I couldn’t help snatching it up. It’s a very interesting yarn since its wool content is not merino – the usual soft wool we encounter in North America – but rather from a breed of sheep called Bluefaced Leicester.

This image was originally posted to Flickr by Magic Foundry at http://flickr.com/photos/91442554@N00/4490975116. Wikipedia Commons

It is said to have more structure than Merino and I’m curious to see how it knits up.

As  I knit my gauge swatch for this piece, however, I cannot help myself but wonder why is it that we knitters don’t really enjoy swatching. Is it because we are so impatient to start the actual piece? Is it the waste of yarn? And before someone starts correcting me, I know it’s not really  a waste if it prevents us from making something that turns out the wrong size. So far, all I can say is that I really like this yarn and can’t wait to cast on the actual piece.

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My first knitted adult sized garment

My local yarn shop is hosting a make along – the idea is to sew or knit a summer top. Since I had been trying to find the encouragement to make a garment (as opposed to an accessory), I joined in. We had 6 weeks to finish our garment of choice. Since I am a very slow knitter and wanted to make sure I finished in the time allotted, I picked a pattern that used thicker yarn and not that much yardage. It was a good choice – I finished my project with three weeks to spare!


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Coffee shops in Paris

I have been researching third-wave coffee shops in Paris and made a short list of the ones I must try:

I’ll be posting reviews of each of them and linking them back here as I visit them. Will I find the best cortado in the city of lights?

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Yarn tourism, pt 2

One yarn I’m looking forward to checking out in Paris, is Titus, by baa ram ewe, from Yorkshire. I blame my friend Kat, my knitting guru, for telling me about all the different heritage breeds of sheep and how each of them produce very different wool. It’s not all about Merino, folks!

Titus is a truly British yarn: a blend of  50% Wensleydale, 20% Bluefaced Leicester, and 30% UK Alpaca for extra warmth and softness. All in a fingering weight yarn. I’m thinking of coupling it with a British designer such as Ysolda Teague and make Ishbel.

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Yarn tourism

As I prepare for a week holiday in Paris, my thoughts turn to knitting and yarn. Which knitting project to bring? Which yarn shop to visit? What yarn to buy?

The knitting project is easy to decide since I am currently working on my knit along with others at Eweknit, here in Toronto. The idea is to knit a summer top before the beginning of June. Since I’m making good progress on my summer top, that is the project to bring.

What about yarn to buy? Turns out France doesn’t have that many artisanal yarn manufacturers but researching the different yarn shops in Paris, I discovered I can get some unique British yarns as well as… Icelandic yarn! Yes, Icelandic yarn in Paris. I know nothing about Icelandic yarn, it is probably very scratchy, but there’s something about yarn from sheep from remote regions that greatly appeal to me.

Christine, the lovely woman behind TrIScote, the online shop that sells Icelandic yarn in Paris, agreed to meet with me to sell me some yarn and introduce me to Icelandic knitting traditions. We’ve spend the past few days exchanging emails back and forth looking at various combinations of yarn to make an Icelandic lace shawl. Some pictures below:

Christine has been very patient with my inability to make decisions – let’s just not mention how many emails I sent that starts with “actually, I changed my mind, how about…” She’ll bring a few options for me and we’ll meet on Friday to discuss them. I can’t wait!

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