Monday, September 04, 2017

Central Europe: Day 3 (Budapest / Vienna)

Last day in Budapest! I was so sad to leave, because it was such a great start to the trip. Budapest was way more beautiful, accessible, and tasty than I remember. (Having a job, money, and more refined tastes helps.)

I started off the day with a two-mile run around the city wall. It was my first run in Europe, and I was thrilled. I took it easy and looked at the sights, and I got to see locals on their morning dog walks. Running in a foreign city really makes you feel like you belong! I'll have to make a habit of it.

Then it was another breakfast at the hotel, this time I got the ridiculously huge croque madame and really felt like I earned it.

One of my favorite buildings in Europe is the Hungarian Parliament building. We didn't get a tour, but we did take some photos around the exterior. It was a beautiful morning for photos, especially after the gloomy day previous.

We stopped by Liberty Square, home to the last standing Soviet monument in Budapest, as well as a quizzical statue of Ronald Reagan. I took a photo giving a thumbs down to one of my least favorite presidents. We walked up the street to Szamos Marcipán to enjoy a chocolate tarte and ogle the beautiful marzipan and baked goods.

Down the street in the central Pest area, we visited St. Stephen's Basilica and, of course, climbed the tower...

The building is utterly vast, and we enjoyed walking around and seeing the relics.

Nearby, there was a post office, so we decided to mail some postcards home from each city. (As I write this post, it is mid-October and my grandma still hasn't received one of them - I need to ask her which one!)

The rest of the morning was fairly indulgent. We stopped at Café Gerbeaud, an indulgent cafe in downtown Pest. 

Look at those macarons! We shared an Esterházy Kehely, a decadent confection made of layers of candied walnut / linzer cake / ice cream, and I also had one of the best hot chocolates I've ever enjoyed in my life.

As if that wasn't enough, we walked to the premium chocolatier Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé for some truffles to take on the road. So good!

Down the street from the chocolatier was a university neighborhood that boasted Lumen Kávézó, a bar with a reputation for craft beer. We had our favorite beers in all of Budapest, including a tasty little cherry sour called Meggysör by the brewery Stari Sör (sör being the word for beer in Hungarian - pronounced almost like "sure").

Lumen was also a great outdoor venue, again mostly locals. I really felt like our guide book, Pocket Budapest by Lonely Planet, helped us get off the beaten path, with some tourist stuff thrown in, too.

With that, it was time to leave beloved Budapest and catch our train to Vienna...

I was excited to be going to Vienna because it was the town on our trip where I had spent the longest amount of time and was most familiar, but also I actually speak the language somewhat (as opposed to Hungarian, which is impossible). 

After a nice long train ride spent knitting, we arrived and got to our hotel, Aparthotel Adagio, which is similar to a Residence Inn and offers a more apartment-like feel and amenities. For instance, we'd be able to do laundry before we left Vienna - important because of how lightly we'd packed. But it was still centrally located.

First up was a dinner reservation at Zum Schwarzen Kameel, Vienna's oldest restaurant (founded in 1618). It had a fabulous art deco interior and still seemed to be popular with locals. I love to visit restaurants and breweries with a long history when I'm visiting Europe - we rarely have anything like it in the United States, especially not in Chicago.

We got the Viennese tasting menu, which included ham shank, dumpling soup, goulash, Wiener schnitzel, potato salad, and an apricot crêpe with mascarpone for dessert. Great start to Vienna for us, and another early night to bed!

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Central Europe: Day 2 (Budapest)

For our full day in Budapest, we slept in and actually felt pretty good - the jet lag wasn't too bad. The hotel served breakfast, and Dave got a ridiculously large Croque Madame. It looked delicious.

We walked through the Castle Hill area, including a palace and church area with beautiful views of the river. We walked around on the castle wall and saw the restored Vienna Gate.

Our first stop was the Hungarian National Gallery, which is situated in Buda Castle. It's an ornate castle built by the Hapsburgs but hardly used by them.

Most of the artists represented were Hungarian, as you might imagine, and there were many we had never heard of before. The Impressionist movement really didn't make its way over to Hungary, although one or two artists visited Paris during that time and painted a few pieces representative of the style.

There was also modern art, and let me tell you, Hungarian modern art is pretty bleak and dark. (Like most modern art, probably, and especially most modern art in former Soviet bloc countries.)

We climbed the dome, of course, and were treated to some wonderful views:

After the gallery, we visited Gellert Baths, a luxurious and relaxing spot just south of Castle Hill. I was reluctant to bring along my swimsuit, flip flops, and swim cap just for this visit, but the photos online looked worth it. It also seemed like a real Hungarian experience.

Look at this place! Don't you want to spend a few hours there?? We swam in this pool, which was a fairly chilly temperature, at least compared to the thermal pools. The thermal pools went from 32 degrees Celsius to 40 degrees Celsius and we tried them all. It was a totally new experience for me, but I'm so glad I did it.

We skipped lunch because we were so full from breakfast, and we decided to push up our visit to the Great Synagogue because we were in the area. Much of the focus of the synagogue was in the history of Hungarian Jewish life, the Holocaust, and what life is like for Jews in Budapest today.

There is a really tortured past there. Hungarians gave up the Jews of the countryside to the Nazis during the occupation, but apparently most of the ones in the city were allowed to remain. However, they were ushered into the ghetto, where many died during the harsh wartime winters. The courtyard of the synagogue is full of mass graves, and there is a memorial outside the synagogue to the murdered Jews of Hungary.

The visit also included a visit to the Hungarian Jewish Museum, which included religious books and items from families in the area.

While we were in the Jewish quarter, we visited a highly recommended café - Frőhlich Kóser Cukrászda - for a break with some coffee, tea, and sweet cakes.  We got a nut cake, an apple pie, and a wonderful cherry strudel.

In the area is the most famous "ruin bar" in Budapest, Szimpla Kert, so we stopped in for a beer.

There are a few ruin bars in Budapest, basically bombed out or destroyed buildings where you can get a drink under the sky. Szimpla Kert was an eclectic mash-up of rooms decorated with all kinds of stuff. 

We earned our Untappd beer badges for Hungarian beers here! I have to say, Hungarian beer is mostly pretty bland pilsners and lagers; I'd stick with the wine, since Czech and German beers both tend to be higher quality. We also had a Slovak beer that was not bad!

We had dinner at a Michelin star restaurant near our hotel named Arany Kaviár ("Golden Caviar"), which is managed by a Russo-Hungarian chef. The meal was delicious, definitely the best we had had and much more affordable than Michelin-starred restaurants in the United States.

We enjoyed some Hungarian sparkling wine, bread with popcorn butter, chicken liver p
âté, a concoction with caviar, sturgeon, and cucumber, wild boar pelmeni (one of my favorite food items of the whole trip), pigeon breast (Dave), sturgeon with gnocchi (Val), poppyseed cake, desserts, and dessert wine. Oof!

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Central Europe: Day 1 (Budapest)

Get ready for another set of travel photos! Dave and I took a trip to Budapest, Vienna, Prague, and Berlin in September. As usual, I'm back-dating them and posting from home so that I've had more time to chew on the experience.

On Friday, September 1, we flew from Chicago to Berlin overnight, then from Berlin to Budapest the next morning. We flew on Air Berlin (more on that later) and were very happy with the experience. We got free toothbrushes and other stuff with the flight, and the movies and food were good.

We stayed at the Baltazár Budapest, an adorable little hotel in the Castle District. The menu looked pretty good, so we decided to have lunch there. They had some traditional Hungarian dishes; I had chicken paprikash with a cucumber salad, and Dave had a duck leg.

I wanted to stop by a yarn shop, but it was closed. Apparently a lot of shops are closed in Budapest on the weekends. Oh well! That was our only taxi ride of the whole trip, though. From then on, all public transportation and our own legs carrying us.

Our first stop was Heroes' Square, which, per Wikipedia, was constructed "to commemorate the thousandth anniversary of the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin," as well as the founding of the Hungarian state in 1896. It's a UNESCO heritage site! We didn't linger long because the weather looked ominous, but it was a beautiful, expansive square.

The next stop was the Hall of Art, which was actually mostly closed for renovations and the installation of some new exhibits. They did have a cute exhibit on coffee / tea serving sets throughout the 20th century, including some fabulous art deco pieces like this:

We meandered over to the city park, and there happened to be a Hungarian culture festival going on! I hadn't been sure how we would fill our afternoon until dinner, but ohhh did we.

Here are some piles of the most delicious marzipan I have ever tasted:

My favorite was the cinnamon-quince one, but Dave was into the Nutella variety.

Down a ways from the food vendors was a stage with showing Hungarian music and dances. There was a group of the cutest old ladies ever, in traditional Hungarian folk outfits.

We also saw a dance, sort of a square dance. At that point, we decided to walk around the park some more, where we could see beer vendors, other music venues setting up, and kids playing sports. The park is obviously very well loved and used.

We headed back to the festival area just in time to catch an absolutely AMAZING modern folk band called Góbé zenekar. We were absolutely blown away, and I'm still fairly obsessed with them. 

Each dude plays like three different instruments, and the music is just catchy and beautiful. It was one of the best live bands I've ever seen. The group has such energy and loves what they do.

It started raining on us just as Góbé was finishing, so we decided to arrive a bit early for our dinner reservation at Robinson, a beautiful glassy restaurant in the park on a pond. I had perch with sausage and butternut squash, and Dave had cod with potatoes. Both of us had Hungarian wines, which are delicious.

We were getting SUPER tired at that point, so we decided to call it a night rather than go to the drinks reservation I had made. We took the subway down to the river, then walked over the bridge and back to the hotel.

Sorry for the blurry photo of the lovely Chain Bridge, but I guess this was as good as it got for my phone. It was a beautiful night - we headed to bed very very early so that we could sleep off our jet lag the next day.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Northwestern Athletics "N"

I work at Northwestern University, where purple pride rules! I've been wanting to do the "Athletics N" for a while, and I had the perfect opportunity recently at a staff gathering where we showed off our artwork. (Mine was all yarn-related!)

Here's my chart:

As usual with my chart patterns, each square represents a single stitch in crochet or a knitted stitch in knitting. Here's the finished product! It would look great as part of a scarf or varsity sweater.

I've been invited to my first NU football game this fall, so maybe I can knit while I'm there if I wear one of these...

I'm going on a trip to Europe soon, so I'll have photos when I get back. I plan on stopping at a yarn shop in each city, so watch my Instagram for the journey!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Cuff craze + bonus scrap pattern

I've been in a cuff craze lately, mostly because I'm trying to organize my yarn and doing a little stashbusting. These cuffs are perfect for that!

To head things off, I'll post the only project here that ISN'T a cuff, exactly - some Madeline Tosh merino light gloves I finished earlier this year but haven't posted yet.

I'm very happy with how they turned out! If anything, I kind of wish I had made them a little longer. Oh well.

On a trip recently, I picked up some Angora bunny yarn that was local to the area in Wisconsin. It was expensive for only 50 yards, so I only bought one ball and decided to do a cuff pattern that I had seen in one of my "knit a day" calendars.

I didn't have quite enough yarn, so I supplemented with a bit of Patons Wool that complemented the soft gray. (And these are so soft!!) I love the detail on the cables.

In the corner of that photo, you can see me starting my next cuffs, which use up some Bunny Badger handspun yarn I got at Yarn Con 2017:

I made a beautiful chunky cowl, but I had a little left over. And you know I cannot let it go to waste. I don't think I cast on as many stitches as the pattern suggests.

And with that, I found a last little bit of some Madeline Tosh ASAP - a chunky yarn that I made a lovely cowl with a few years ago. I decided to do one last cuff, and share the pattern with you all!

Stashbuster Cuff

Yarn: Chunky / bulky, 25-50 yards (I used Madeline Tosh ASAP)

Needles: 10 dpns

CO 21 sts

Rnd 1: K2 P1 around
Rnd 2: repeat rnd 1
Rnds 3-??: K around

Keep going until you are almost out of yarn, then:

Last two rnds: repeat rnd 1

Bind off loosely in pattern and weave in ends.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Uplands, Wisconsin: Day 3

On our last day in Wisconsin, we made my three favorite stops: yarn, beer, and cheese!

First stop after another glorious breakfast at the Cameo Rose (consisting of muffins, stuffed French toast, and a caramel pudding) was the Sow's Ear yarn store and coffee shop. I love the combination there! You feel like you can sit and knit for hours without guilt. You can also buy more yarn if you need it! It's one-stop shopping!

They had some very beautiful stuff. I picked out some fun yarn-related earrings, as well as a gradient sock kit and a gradient glove kit. Very excited to make these.

If only a yarn / coffee shop would open up in Chicagoland! Or yarn / brewery...

Next stop was the New Glarus Brewery, which we have visited many times before. 

They're expanding the self-guided tour, which is neat, and apparently there is a new mural of Dan Carey cleaning the tanks:

At any rate, we had already had all the beers they were pouring in the tasting area, so we just bought some items in the beer depot and headed down to New Glarus the town for lunch at the Glarner Stube. Their cheese curds are the best, their fish sandwich is the best, their New Glarus beer selection is the's just the best. If I can't move to Switzerland, maybe this is the next best thing.

I hope my readers enjoyed my tour of Wisconsin. We visit often, but every few years we like to do a more extended, multi-day trip like this. I can definitely see retiring to Wisconsin, or even looking at jobs in the Madison area one day. It seems like my cup of beer.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Uplands, Wisconsin: Day 2

Day 2 of our Wisconsin trip is really the only full day - we drove all over the area all day for beer, art, wine, and yarn!

In the morning, we took a walk around the property, which we enjoy doing because it's woodsy and fun, but I didn't count on the dew, so my shoes got totally soaked! Oh well. I also took some time in the morning to work on my Sophie's Universe afghan before breakfast. I haven't posted a photo of this guy for a while! Almost done!

Breakfast is a big affair at the Cameo Rose B&B. We enjoyed a warm scone, fresh-squeezed juice, eggs benedict, and a scoop of sherbet with a splash of champagne. Dawn treats us right!

After breakfast, some of our B&B guests were going for a bike ride, which would be fun to do again, but this time we just drove to Monroe. We stopped first at the Orange Kitten yarn store, which had a good variety of yarn, especially some local fibers.

I ended up picking up a gorgeous little ball of Angora bunny yarn (the little gray one at right), which I don't see a lot of these days. I'll make something little with them. I also bought a hank of gorgeous bulky sheep's wool, in a cream color.

Next up was the Minhas Brewery, which has a tasting room AND a museum of beer kitsch and advertisements.

The beer here is OK; Minhas goes on the lighter, sweeter side, and some of it seems to be somewhat gimmicky. Still, I think the masses in Wisconsin (and probably elsewhere) prefer lighter beers, so they are probably well positioned.

Next up was a glorious reuben sandwich, cheese, and beer at Baumgartner's, a "cheese store and tavern" in the Monroe downtown area. 

Last time I was there, I was daring and got the Limburger & onion sandwich, which ended up being a terrible idea. (A few bites are fine and funky, but the further you go, the more it tastes like feet and you never want to eat again.)

Right after lunch, we headed to the Candinas chocolate boutique in Verona.

It's a beautiful little shop with some of the best chocolates we've ever had. We rushed it back to the air conditioning of the B&B and headed north for the afternoon.

Our first stop was Botham Vineyards, where we enjoyed the sunny weather and got a flight of wine.

Not sure I really look like I'm enjoying myself here, but it was more trying to get a good shot of the fields!

We got to try everything on the tasting menu, but unfortunately Botham specializes in sweet wines, which I really don't care for at all. But if you like sweet stuff and feel like spending the afternoon sipping on a beautiful sunny porch, this place is for you!

After Botham, we headed to Mt. Horeb to get some beer and check out the art festival we heard was happening that day. I don't have any pictures, but the art festival was great! We saw a lot of handmade objects, I bought some cards from a photographer, and we got to taste "mustard chocolate" at Sjölinds Chocolate House.

At Grumpy Troll Brew Pub, we had:

  • Ol' Eagle Summer Porter
  • Hoppa Loppa American IPA
  • Liberty Pole Pale Ale
  • Hopsburger (pilsner) - underrated on Untappd!

We got some cheese curds, and maybe it's not fair to compare them, but they're just not as good as Glarner Stube or even the Brat Stop in Kenosha.

After that full day, we pretty much went back to the B&B and rested for the evening. Read books, ate leftover pizza, drank red wine, went for a walk. It was everything a quiet evening in Wisconsin should be!