Thursday, May 30, 2013

Knitting Away: (the Other) Portland

Last weekend I drank my way though Portland, Maine and I enjoyed every moment of it.

I'm the kind of person who picks a place (or places) and decides that I would love to live there without ever having been. I'm sure I'm not the only person who does this, but these past two years have been huge for traveling and I'd managed to travel to most of the places on my list: Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, Paris. But not Maine. I told Matt when I moved to Philly that I needed to go to Maine before I left and with time here winding down there was no time like the present.

I booked us a 7:15am flight to Boston from Philly (only $115 vs. $350+ flying directly to Portland). Matt grumbled all the way to the airport at 5am, but showing up super early actually paid off and they boarded us on an earlier flight at no extra charge. Go figure. We landed in Boston at 7:30, but what can you do in Boston at 7:30 on a Friday morning? The answer, dear friends, is head to the North End for delightful Italian pastries.
Cool buildings by Paul Revere's house

I was last in Boston at the beginning of April for my birthday. Matt, my friends Sara and Kristin, and I headed for the iconic Mike's Pastry's just after dinner on our last night in town, but the line was crazy long out the door. We headed down the street to the (still crazy) Modern Pastry and were rewarded with delightfully inexpensive Italian treats. The cream puffs are as big as your face! This time we walked right up the counter and ordered a cream puff & eclair to split. They were delightful.

My boyfriend is fat
We wandered around the Harborwalk and Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market while we waited for our 11:30 train. Whenever I go someplace I just enjoy walking and seeing things, and Friday at 9am is really a perfect time for walking; Boston was beautifully quiet.

We fed these birds cream puff. They loved it and it was the funniest thing to watch them fly away with huge hunks of it in their beaks. I'm pretty sure PETA is after me now, but I figured they eat worse.

While in the North End we swung by Paul Revere's Boston home. The area is old and full of beautiful buildings. It's definitely worth walking though if you're near the North End.

Rain loomed over the city while we walked though, but it didn't come down until after we left.

Matt being a tourist in Faneuil Hall.
Finally, it was time to go. I've learned a lot about traveling on a budget over the past two years and one thing I can't recommend enough is to be flexible. Like I mentioned above, flights from Philly to Portland cost more than $350 per person. That just wasn't in our price range for a weekend trip, so I decided to look around. The Amtrak Downeaster leaves Boston several times a day and makes stops in Massachussetts, New Hampshire and Maine. Even with all those stops the trip ends up being just over 2 hours, which is the perfect amount of time for a quick nap. Portland is pretty small in terms of cities, but the downtown hotels are about 2-3 miles ($10 cab ride) away from the train station. Most, including the Residence Inn Marriott where we stayed, offer complementary shuttles from the hotel to the train station/airport. A single roundtrip Amtrak ticket from Boston to Portland costs anywhere from $30-50 depending on time of day. We paid $90 total, bringing the cost of our transportation from Philly to Portland to about $320, still less than one r/t ticket from Philly to Boston.
So. Be Flexible.

The weather did not look promising when we stepped out of the hotel, so we decided to keep it short and walk up the hill to Shipyard Brewing Company. Seriously. This place was right behind our hotel.

Shipyard is great in that they offer "tours" at the start of every hour, so you know exactly when you need to be there. I use the word tour here very loosely because it isn't really a tour at all. When you pass under the Shipyard Hall of Fame sign you're ushered into an area resembling a small chapel. Church of beer, anyone? After a brief informational video on the history of Shipyard it's time to try some beer!

Our "tour guide" lead us through a tasting of all the Shipyard/Sea Dog summer beers and then it was a bit of a free for all. In addition to all the Shipyard Brewing Co. beers, Shipyard is also affiliated with Casco Bay brewing and Sea Dog Brewing and all of those beers are available for purchase directly at the Shipyard Brewing Company. We were invited to sample any of the Shipyard/Sea Dog beers we might desire. Dangerous offer to make, my friend. 

Before our visit I'd only tried Shipyard Pumpkinhead Seasonal and it was very good. Their summer offering is called Melonhead and man was I blown away by the amount of watermelon flavor in this beer. Like, it was almost too much. I'm a huge fan of 21st Amendment's Hell or High Watermelon, which is a less sweet watermelon wheat beer, so I thought I would love this one as well. It was just too much and I could only take a few sips of before passing it off to Matt. Winning beers from this brewery included Monkey Fist IPA, Shipyard Summer Ale and their Bourbon Aged ESB (I think). Despite the lack of a behind the scenes tour I would recommend checking this brewery out just to try some Maine beers you might not otherwise have the chance to.

Following our visit to Shipyard we dropped off our purchases (Monkey Fist and a bottle of Smashed Pumpkin) and headed off. Regardless of the weather, we walked the mile and a half to Whole Foods for snacks and more beer, but as soon as we walked outside the rain started falling. And it didn't stop just because we needed it to. We took cover in a restaurant I'd read about on Yelp: Duckfat. How can you not stop in a placed named Duckfat?

First off everything comes in a Mason jar. I know this is hipster level 9,000, but just go with it. It was old person dinner o'clock, so the place was pretty quiet, but by the time we left it was packed. And I can see why. We sat at a high top table and ordered 2 of their 3 draft beers, both of which were completely new to us. I got the Marshall Wharf Ace Hole IPA (yep) and it was tasty, probably mason jar enhanced. We played with the magnetic poetry a bit before our food arrived.

In hindsight we should have split a small. These fries were some of the best I've ever had. Everything that is fried at Duckfat is fried, well, in duck fat. They also have a poutine topped with a duck egg, but neither Matt nor I were daring enough to try it. The menu is set with some delicious things and everyday they offer some new specials to mix things up. We both ordered paninis and Matt's even had RAMP PESTO on it. If you're ever in Portland, even if you don't have to duck out of the rain, go to Duckfat. 

Saturday morning we met up with some friends for a trip to Allagash brewing, because, like I said, I drank my way through Maine. This was a REAL tour and it was up there with Sam Adam's Brewery in terms of thoroughness and interest level. If you're into beer or hope to learn more about beer I would recommend this tour. They even bring full flights to your table after the tour.

My souvenirs
We spent our last day in Maine eating seafood and huddling on a boat (it was cold) looking at lighthouses. The sun finally made an appearance as we were setting off. We made it down to the water, wandered thought the small streets and shops and made it to KnitWit, a beautiful little yarn shop with some of the nicest people. And a wall of Quince & Co. yarns.

Walking along the Casco Bay.

Peekaboo sunshine

Portland Head Light, the most iconic Maine lighthouse.

My purchases from KnitWit: 2 skeins of Quince & Co. Sparrow in Paprika and some beautiful merino/cashmere Caper Sock by String Theory. So much love for this new sock yarn. And check out the whole wall of Quince & Co.!

Before it got freezing on the boat

If you like beer and haven't had enough yet: Novare Res. They specialize in Belgian beers and offer a small lunch/dinner menu. We went at 3:30 on a Sunday and it was packed. This Petrius Sour was delightful, tart and refreshing.

Seafood from Gilbert's Chowder House: Clam cake, clam chowder (with bacon), fries and the freshest Lobster Roll we will probably even eat. Gilberts gets some of the first picking in Maine and is less expensive/crowded than the Lobster Co.

Beautiful brick walls in downtown Portland

Portland Head Light sans Instagram

Cute as a bug: Bug Light lighthouse

On a whole, Portland was beautiful. Put me next to the water any day and I will be happy. I will be back, but I think I can cross it off my "must live here" list, for the time being. At least they always have sweater weather ;)

And to answer the inevitable "Which Beer was Best?" I'll have to leave you with my top 3: Allagash Cerise, Allagash Victor and White Birch Brewing Hop to Wit. I was on a bit of a sour kick all weekend and the Cerise was hands down the most interesting beer I've ever had. It's only available in limited quantities, so if you see it buy it! 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What I'm Working on Wednesday

Well it's crazy overcast today and it smells like rain, so these photos might not be the best, especially in the Alegria shawl I'm working on. I haven't finished my 2 requisite WIPs that will allow me to start a new project, but I figured that swatching was ok! 

My Iceland Shawl in Manos Alegria

So I started this swatch last night and ripped it back when it was about double this size. I think I liked what I saw. I exchanged one of the not-so-Ashley skeins of Alegria I bought on a whim (Botanico, also beautiful, but NOT Carnaval) for this skein that I've been eyeing for awhile. It's always a happy surprise when a skein of sock yarn looks as beautiful in the wound ball as it does in the skein and Carnaval certainly does. I'm hoping this shawl is one of the (many) things I finish in the next two weeks. It's going to be triangular with some dropped stitch "stripes" along the way.

Habitat in Manos Rittenhouse
This hat has been lost at least 2-3 times since I started knitting it. I don't really have much to say about it aside from everyone and their mother/brother has knit this hat at least once. This will be my second time knitting it, but the first was a gift that I loved so much I almost stole it. Finally one of my own in this beautiful cinnamon shade. I'm going to have some great hats this fall.

Color Affection in Tosh Merino Light
And another Color Affection shawl. I knit the first one in about a week because I was SO EXCITED but this one is dragging a little bit. It doesn't help that I've had to rip out that third color 3 times because nothing I added seemed all that great. Finally I had to break down and order the Grasshopper colorway to complete my combination. I'm very happy with how it's working up, but all that garter stitch is starting to drive me mad. Thankfully there are so many shades of Tosh Merino Light to choose from that I knew I would find something else to knit with.

I still have 2 hats to start for Iceland, but I absolutely need to focus on finishing up my sample sweater. We shall see.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Facing Fears: Flying Solo to Iceland

I am not an independent person; I am only adventurous in the loosest sense of the word and I can be a big baby when it comes to traveling arrangements. I'm not afraid to fly, but my muscles tense up when it starts raining and I'm on the Bolt Bus three hours from home. I fear walking through airports and missing connections more than anything else. When I get there, and I always do, eventually, that's when I'm fine.

Packing up three weeks worth of clothes and yarn and heading East without a ticket home was probably the most daring thing I've done thus far. I knew I probably wouldn't be back, but I didn't tell anyone anything. I didn't want to wuss out and return to Chicago in two weeks. I knew I would love Philly, but I didn't think I would still be here and I didn't think I could think of it as home. I may have hurt some people and my mother still guilts me sometimes, but in order to grow you have to leave. Staying stagnant in the Midwest was a fear greater than "what if..."

Now I'm addicted to traveling, even if it's a quick trip to New York City that will be over in a few hours. $50 and 2 hours on a bus each way for a day in Manhattan. But why wouldn't you? I've made it a game (a very expensive one) to see how many weekends out of a month I can spend in a new city. Some months I can even be out of town every weekend and those are the most exhausting and exhilarating of the bunch. I haven't traveled much this month because I taught a class at the Shop and that put the kaboosh on any kind of long weekend I might have had in mind.

So you can blame restlessness on what I did this weekend.

Woohoo! Thanks, Delta

I booked a ticket for a solo trip to Iceland, a place I've dreamed of visiting for years. I booked a trip by myself to a foreign country on a whim and decided that I would figure out the rest along the way. I leave in two weeks and this will be the first ever trip I fund and go on by myself. It's terrifying.

After making Matt click the "confirm" button, I felt waves of terror and relief wash over me. I found the deal around 12:30 on Saturday afternoon and hemmed and hawed over my decision for a good 4 hours before I finally accepted that I could do this. I would be alone for almost a week, but so what? I could see what I wanted to see, make friends along the way and just have a great time. I may be poor as anything when I come home, but I will spend 5 beautiful days in the land of fire and ice. If I really do hate it (impossible?) then it will be over in 5 days and I will be a bigger weenie than I thought.

Now to answer the most important questions: 1. Which hat(s) do I knit for the trip? and 2. PUFFINS or WHALES? Puffins AND Whales? Glaciers OR volcanoes? If you've been to Iceland, dear readers, please share some of your favorite things to do in the Reykjavik area. See, I can spell it right now.

Seriously. How can this be real?

For more breathtaking photos and an awesome introduction to sell you on Iceland, check out the photographer's blog (linked under the photo & here). I suggest you listen to this Sigur Ros song while you flip through. It's an oldie, but still my favorite. And the video is equally beautiful.

Disclaimer: I really am super excited about this trip. I'll try not to let my weeniness interfere with what I'm sure will be an amazing experience. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Maryland Sheep & Wool Recovery 2: The Animals

I almost let this post escape me and that would have been a shame.

I let my lust for new yarn rule my route at fiber festivals, but it wouldn't be the same without the sheep & alpaca. Not at all. Before I moved to Philly the only fiber "event" I had been to was Stitches Midwest and that was a completely different experience. Matt took me to Stitches a few weeks before I moved to Philly and, while I bought things (mama ain't no fool), it just wasn't fun. I felt rushed (slightly Matt's fault) and cramped (not Matt's fault) the whole time. Fiber festivals are something to look forward to with my homegirls, but they're definitely more enjoyable when outside. Y'know, in nature.

My outdoor fiber festival experiences experiences have traveled across three states now (MD - NJ - NY), but they all have the same kind of layout, excepting New Jersey Sheep and Wool. If you google New Jersey Alpaca farms you will find a lot of different farms. Alpaca ain't no joke in the Garden State and that festival was different from MD and NY in the fact that the animals were the true stars of that show. True, NJ State Sheep & Wool isn't the same level of *event* as NY or MD, but it still drew a crowd. And we still bought things. Many things. Like Light Brown Hare, a lovely designer located near the festival. Seriously. Check her out. She even offers hand dying advice on her youtube channel and is a genuinely delightful lady to talk to.

Maryland Sheep & Wool is set up like Rhinebeck in that there is yarn, there are animals. The yarn, fiber and fiberholic specialties are what the public flocks to see, but it's easy to spend the day enjoying the festival even if you aren't a knitter. I'm looking at you, husbands/boyfriends/SOs. And if you have small children? You'll make their day. Like wine and fine cheeses? Sorry, you'll have to go to Rhinebeck for that.

Events at Maryland Sheep and Wool include free demonstrations, pre-scheduled workshops and even competitions. Have you finally completed Jared Flood's Rock Island shawl after almost a year of letting it just sit there? You should enter it! Have you knit every sweater from Alice Starmore's Tudor Roses? Well, duh. And once you think you've spent all of your money on yarn you can sit in on an auction and see them offer up some truly interesting/weird things.

Seriously though. Go pet some sheep.

Some sheep lack the knowledge of "personal space"

And it wouldn't be a trip to Sheep & Wool without a stop in Baltimore!

Crabs! Not mine.