Friday, February 24, 2012

cesky krumlov

Sorry these trip posts seem to take so long coming, but this is finally the last one from our vacation last December. When we first chose Prague as our destination I initially thought we'd have time to explore a bit more of the country. But then we decided to visit Dresden as well, and so we'd only have 2 or 3 days left to visit somewhere else.

After a bit of research and reading my travel guide, I came upon this description of Cesky Krumlov: "Crowned by a stunning castle, and centred on an elegant old-town square, the Renaissance and Baroque buildings of Cesky Krumlov enclose the meandering arc of the Vltava River. During summer, countless photographic memory cards are filled as pigeons dart through busloads of day-tripping tourists exploring the town's narrow lanes and footbridges. Either side of July and August the town is (slightly) more subdued and secluded. Come in winter to experience the beauty of the castle blanketed in snow. (...) In 1992, Cesky Krumlov was granted Unesco World Heritage status."

I mean, how could we not go there, right ? So we decided to rent a car in Prague and drive down, and maybe even stop and visit some other sights along the way. Of course, the airline strike kind of messed up our plans and in the end we only had one full day to make the trip. We went anyway, kind of crazy I know, but we thought it was worth it.

I need to tell you a story though, about the rent-a-car place. The car rental prices in Prague seemed to be substantially more expensive than what we are used to in other places in Europe, and after some comparisons we decided to make a reservation at Avis for a short rental. Even so, it would cost us about 240 EUR for just 2 days. While in Prague I read about a local car agency, Vecar, which seemed to offer much better prices. I contacted them by e-mail and they were quite prompt in their reply, and indeed the price was less than half the price quote from Avis. On the day we came back from Dresden we took a taxi to their office which was not in central Prague but a bit further away (advice: if taking a taxi from the train station don't ever accept the price that is given to you at first. Bargain at least two or three times before settling on a price.). Upon arriving there we were very surprised to discover that the office was actually what seemed like the owners' home (there was a desk on the entrance hall where we were received, but next to it we could see the kitchen). This had never happened to us before but I guess there's a first time for everything. We thought it was quite peculiar and amusing though. It took a while to get all the paperwork done, and even more time to get the car, after about an hour and a half I think before we were on our way. So I would not recommend this if you need a quick and efficient service, or if you're particular about the cars you rent (these are usually not new cars, the one we got was probably 5 or 6 years old), but if you're looking for something cheaper and don't mind waiting a little for service then this is a good option.

I took us a little over two hours to get to Cesky Krumlov, quite reasonable even though it was rainy and the roads not in the best of conditions. It is a picture perfect postcard place, as you can see. We wish we could've had a few more hours to visit the inside of the castle, but even so the place is so small you can visit everything by foot in a day easily. It was quite empty at this time of the year, but I can imagine this would be swamped with tourists during the summer.

Places to eat: we enjoyed a really nice dinner at The Two Marys, a Bohemian restaurant with a cozy atmosphere that serves traditional Czech food and drinks. The food was very, very good (just take a look at the menu) and A. says their mead was one of the best he had.
The next day we discovered the Egon Schiele Museum Café and had our 2nd breakfast there, while Sara played with the numerous plush toys available. They had a great children's room too. It's funny how we never notice these things when we don't have kids but suddenly it's such a nice thing to find when we do.

:: someone was a bit grumpy that day ...
:: but she soon was in a  better mood ...

:: the castle at night

:: dinner at The Two Marys
:: view from our apartment
:: C. Krumlov had some of the best children's shops I've ever seen, full of marvelous wooden toys

:: view from the castle
:: an inner courtyard of the castle

:: we asked a passer-by to take a photo of us three with the castle in the background, but clearly he was in a rush and didn't wait for us to pose. Even so, I find I quite like this photo
:: Botanicus, one of my favorite shops in the Czech Republic
:: Egon Schiele Museum Café, the perfect ending to our trip

Monday, February 13, 2012

book review: romancing miss bronte

I've always been a Bronte fan, so when I stumbled upon this book it made me curious. I was half expecting it to be a sort of "Becoming Jane" kind of story, but about Charlotte Bronte instead. See, the romancing word on the title can be a bit misleading. It does have romance in it, but just the right amount and only at the end. The rest is a fiction novel about the Brontes' sisters life and of Charlotte Bronte in particular. Although it is fiction, it is based on the real facts that are known about them, so it reads like non-fiction or more like a biography sometimes.

What did I think of it ? I loved it. I enjoyed it so much I couldn't stop reading it. It was a busy week and I had a certification exam on Saturday morning but still I stole a few moments every day just to read another chapter. The book starts quite slowly, introducing us to the Bronte household, the different characters of the three sisters and their brother, their relationship with their father and their friends, their studies in Brussels and their solitary life in Yorkshire. I loved Emily's portrayal, it is exactly how I would picture the author of "Wuthering Heights". I have read "Villette" a few years ago and although I can't remember much of it now (time for a re-read perhaps ?) it was very interesting to learn how much of Charlotte's novels are autobiographical. I loved to read about the interaction between the three sisters, and how they decided to publish their own novels under the name of Acton, Ellis and Currer Bell. I also enjoyed reading about how the inspiration for "Jane Eyre" came about. After it gains public recognition the story starts to pick up a bit more of pace and things start to happen for Charlotte. At the insistence of her publisher she goes to London for a while and gets to meet Thackeray, for example, and becomes a friend of Elizabeth Gaskell.

The book has a lot of sad parts, of course. I mean, if you know a little of the Brontes' life, you'll know they died quite young, so there are no surprises there. I was curious to know a bit more about their brother Branwell. He who was supposed to be the talent in the family, the one that everyone had such high expectation from, and was actually such a failure.

And about the romance part ? Well, at the start of the book we are introduced to Arthur Nicholls, a curate who comes to work for Patrick Bronte, the girls' clergyman father. He seems to be quite the boring character at first, but little by little he seemed to grow on me. He's stubborn and quite obstinate in his views, and sometimes his opinions just seem too intolerant and bigoted. But we catch glimpses of his good qualities and how he starts to care for Charlotte. That he finally falls so passionately for her is a bit of a surprise, but Gael makes it feel true. Charlotte doesn't feel the same way but thinks it's the last opportunity she'll have of getting married and not ending up lonely and resigns herself to a loveless marriage. I was a bit angry when I read this, since I do love my happy endings, but the last couple of chapters about their honeymoon and the start of their married life made up for it afterwards.
So if you're a Bronte fan or are just merely curious about their lives I would definitely recommend reading this. I have a strong urge to re-read "Jane Eyre" now, and see if knowing a bit more of Charlotte's life will give me a different impression of her books. I've never read "Shirley" either, so that goes on my to be read list soon.
(Charlotte Bronte's portrait by J.H. Thompson. I was really curious to see it after it was mentioned in the book)

hats hats hats

The plan was to photograph the hat ... but as usual, she wouldn't stay still.
So I resorted to the empty cardboard box trick. As any parent knows, this can provide endless hours of entertainment (disclaimer: this is an amazon box, but any box will do, at least in our house)
Or wait till it's mealtime and she's safely seated in the highchair, that also works sometimes.
Pattern: HATS HATS HATS, by Freckle
(This was a test knit for the designer so the pattern is not available yet, but will be soon on Ravelry. In the meantime, if you're interested, she has some for sale in her Etsy shop)
Size: 1 year (what can I say ? S. has a small head)
Yarn: Katia Caricia 1.5 skeins (yarn held double), Needles: 3.5 mm

Sunday, February 05, 2012

miss korrigan

How do you photograph an almost 18 month old that never sits still anymore ?

"Mom, can't you see I have better things to do ?"
 Well, in the end I had to bribe her with my Huglight ...
Pattern: Miss Korrigan, by Solenn DRN
Yarn: Novita 7 Veljestä (1 skein)
Needles: 3.5 mm
Size: 2 years
Ravelry link

I only had a skein of this yarn, which I bought in Lapland almost 2 years ago. There was only this one supermarket in Yllas, where we stayed, but it had everything you could possible imagine. Indispensable things like Moomin mugs, for example, and of course Finnish yarn. Got to love a supermarket like that (and let's not talk about how much I miss Finnish bread *sigh*) ... I had planned to knit a cardigan with it for Sara when she was born, but never did, so I thought I'd use it now. So glad I did, because there wasn't enough yarn and that's why it ended up being short sleeved (if I had waited longer I'd probably only be able to knit her a vest or something). The pattern is really nice, and it comes in so many sizes I can see myself knitting a couple more in the future.